The Law of God and the Church (1)
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5.17, 18
An ongoing responsibility
It never fails. I only need to mention, in a sermon, lecture, or essay, something about the Christian’s ongoing responsibility to keep the Law of God, and someone will be there to take me to task. “I’m not under Law, I’m under grace.” “You’re preaching salvation by works.” “This is not a theocracy, you know.”
So go the objections, some more passionate than others, but each along the same lines. This despite the fact, as we have seen, that the Spirit of God is re-writing the Law on the hearts of the redeemed and furnishing their minds with its liberating truths (Ezek. 36.26, 27; Rom. 8.5-9), and that Jesus taught that keeping and teaching the Law is the way to greatness in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 5.17-19).
Love for and delight in God’s Law are indispensable for a good conscience and a strong soul. What do Christians have against the Law of God? Why are we so adamant to deny any ongoing responsibility for walking the same path Jesus walked (1 Jn. 2.1-6)?
Of course, not all the Old Testament Law of God continues to have validity. The writer of Hebrews explains, in chapters 7-10, that the laws defining and guiding the work of priests changed, as the Old Covenant was replaced with the New. While we can still learn principles of holiness and right worship by studying the laws of sacrifice, diet, and so forth, these no longer bind us as ethical norms (cf. 1 Cor. 9.13, 14). The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law” (Heb. 7.12).
For the Old Testament priestly rights and duties, Jesus has substituted the sacrifice of His own life, the ordinances and sacraments of the Church, and His ongoing intercessory and sanctifying work. We proclaim Jesus as the way to salvation and wholeness in our soul, not the Law of God.
But the Law remains established for believers as holy and righteous and good (Rom. 3.31; 7.12). And, given the current antipathy toward the Law in many Christian circles, we have a way to go in recovering this crucial ingredient for achieving a good conscience.
The Law and our salvation
The Ten Commandments and the civil laws of ancient Israel remain valid as guides in the way of love. The New Testament – beginning with the Lord Jesus – indicates that these have continuing value and must not be neglected or set aside. Christians are called to keep the Law of God, not to be saved but so that we might bring our salvation to light in lives of good works (Phil. 2.12; Eph. 2.10).
At least five reasons explain why Christians today should continue to keep the Law of God.
First, the Law of God encodes the very character of God – holiness, righteousness, and goodness (Rom. 7.12). Since we are God’s children and the Spirit of God is at work within us, transforming us into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18), it makes sense for us to know and follow the Law of God.
Second, the Law of God defines the terms of goodness which must characterize the works for which Christians have been redeemed. When Paul wrote that we are God’s workmanship, redeemed for good works, he clearly had in mind those “before-ordained” works outlined in the Law of God (Eph. 2.8-10). Without a fixed standard of goodness like the Law of God, believers will have a difficult time fulfilling their reason for being redeemed.
Third, obedience to the Law of God proves – not earns – a believer’s discipleship, as the apostle John explains (1 Jn. 2.1-6).
Fourth, following the teaching of the Law guides us in the way of love. Love is the hallmark of Christian faith, as well as the fulfillment of the Law (Matt. 22.34-40). We’re not free to make up the standards of love, or merely to be led by what we feel. God has shown us the way of love, and if we would love as He does, we must walk the path He has revealed.
Finally, keeping the Law of God, while it strengthens the conscience of the believer, it appeals to the conscience of the unbeliever. This is because God has written the works of the Law – the basic standards of right and wrong – on the soul of every person (Rom. 2.14, 15). It’s not accidental that so many of the laws that make for a stable society have their roots in the Ten Commandments. Every person’s conscience looks to those works of the Law, either to approve or condemn actions, to bring guilt and shame or approval. Without the Law, we have no fixed standard for the conscience to approve or accuse as it sets the will for action.
Christian action informed by the Law of God can have powerful effects. As unbelievers observe Christians living according to the Law, they will note our wisdom and be attracted to the teaching of Christ, which is the entry point to holiness, righteousness, and goodness (cf. Deut. 4.6; Mic. 4.1-5).
The Law of God must, therefore, have a vital place in the life of every believer. Not a jot, not a tittle of it will pass away, but all the Law continues to guide us into the way of love.
But for the Law to guide us as individuals, the Law must also have a proper place in the whole body of Christ, the local church, and in local churches throughout any community. Just what that place is, we will explore in this part of our study of a good conscience.
1. How can the Law still be important in the life of faith and not be the means of our salvation?
2. What do we mean by saying that keeping the Law of God proves a person’s salvation?
3. Can you think of any examples of how Christian obedience to the Law of God has influenced others?
Next steps – Preparation: How would you describe the place of the Law of God in your life? Do you see any need for improvement in your relationship to the Law?
T. M. Moore
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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.