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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

The Spirit of the Law

It still applies and blesses today.

The Law of God and Public Policy: Begin Here (2)

“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live…And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today.” Deuteronomy 30.6, 8

Law for an age of grace
From the beginning, God intended His Law as a standard of wisdom, righteousness, and justice for all nations, although He gave it first to His people, that they might embrace and embody it before the world (cf. Deut. 4.5-8). In its original form and context, the Law of God was altogether appropriate for the times in which it was given. Especially was it appropriate for a people who did not have a heart for God and who needed to have their most sinful passions and tendencies reined in by rigid strictures of threat and discipline (cf. Deut. 5.29). Israel’s persistent failure to obey God’s Law ultimately cost them their freedom, as they were taken captive by the very cultures they chose to emulate.

But Israel’s condition of hardness would not always be the case. God explained to the people of Moses’ generation that a day was coming when He would cleanse the hearts of His people and enable them to obey His Law. Subsequent revelation explains that this day would come with the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon His people (cf. Ezek. 36.26, 27). When God gives a new Spirit to His people, then they will understand and keep His Law. The coming of the Spirit of God brought the Kingdom of God to the world in a new and more intimate way. Greatness in that Kingdom is associated with learning, obeying, and teaching the Law of God (Matt. 5.17-19).

We now live in an age of grace, when, by the striving and wooing of God’s Spirit and the preaching of the Gospel, many are led to seek a heart for God and a right relationship with Him. This He has provided through the salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ. All who, by the inward working of God’s Spirit, receive a new heart, are enabled to believe in Jesus and enter His Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14.17, 18).

And with this new heart comes a new desire to learn, obey, and teach the Law of God as a means of grace to the world.

The expansion of God’s Israel
In this new era of the Kingdom of God, the Spirit—and, with Him, the Law of God—is extended to Gentiles and Jews alike (Mic. 4.1-5; cf. Acts 15.8-21). Thus, as the Gospel comes to the Gentiles, through the holy lives and faithful witness of God’s people, the benefits of God’s Law break loose from their ancient moorings into new cultures and among new peoples, where the wisdom and understanding of the Law come to light in new ways by the illuminating and enabling power of the Spirit of God.

We can see this pattern already beginning to be employed in Israel’s own history. In Ruth 4 a situation arose which was not expressly covered by any of the statutes of God’s Law. It fell to the judges and elders to consider the words of the Law in order to discern the spirit in which it should be applied for the specific circumstances of their day. Their deliberations and decision received the blessing of God.

We expect that, in this age of the Spirit, when all nations are commanded to believe the Gospel, that there should be some adjustments in the way we understand, practice, and administer the Law of God. This is so (a) because the Law does not always speak specifically, that is, in its words, to the unique social and cultural circumstances of our day; (b) the Church—the expanded and fulfilled Israel (Heb. 12.22-24)—is not the state and does not possess the powers God has reserved to the state for doing good (Rom. 13.1-4); and (c) grace and forgiveness are extended to all peoples through the message of the Gospel, not by calling them to keep the Law.

Because America is not ancient Israel, and America exists during the era of God’s Kingdom, we do not expect to apply God’s Law in every case exactly as it was given to Moses. Apostolic example shows us that the spirit of the Law inclines toward grace rather than retribution (1 Cor. 5; cf. Deut. 22.30; 2 Cor. 3.6). The letter or words of the Law remain the starting point for defining and exposing sin, but the grace of the Spirit and the Gospel must now guide us in determining the application of the Law to the needs and circumstances of our day.

But all this interpreting and applying God’s Law in ways relevant to our contemporary condition must begin in the hearts of believers and their churches. Unless we are a people of the Law who are creating a new community of grace, we will not have the wisdom God promised that can attract people to Himself. The Law we learn and live will convict us of sin, drive us to Jesus for forgiveness, and open to us the power of the Spirit that we might live in the holiness, righteousness, and goodness God’s Law provides, loving God and our neighbors as the defining attributes of our lives and communities.

The Church is not the state any more than American is Israel or the Church. But the Church is the new and being-completed Israel, and the Law God has given for His people remains relevant for us and our times today.

The spirit of the Law
And since, in every nation, making and administering law is in the hands of government, and governments are not populated exclusively by believers, the people of God, out of love for God and their neighbors, must discover ways of commending obedience to the spirit of the Law, to shape public policy in ways that government, as the servant of God for good, can ultimately embrace.

This we do by performing the requirements of God’s Law, not in some artificial or superficial manner, but from the heart, gladly obeying what we know to be God’s will; and by persuading public officials of the benefits of grace to be realized by bringing the spirit of God’s Law to bear on matters of public policy.

We understand that the Law of God is not the means of salvation; yet it is a good law for all nations. We look to the Spirit and the Gospel to help us in being wise as serpents and harmless as doves in bringing the holiness, righteousness, and goodness of God’s Law to bear in appropriate ways, first, on our lives as members of the community of the King of kings, and then on the public policy concerns of our day.

For reflection
1. Since the Church is the new Israel, it only makes sense that God’s Law should be its possession and treasure. Explain.

2. Jesus and the apostles appealed to the Law of God to guide believers in the way of love. What should we learn from this about the role of the Law in our sanctification?

3. We’re not saved by the Law but unto it. Explain.

Next steps—Conversation: How do your fellow believers make use of the Law of God in their walk with Jesus? Ask a few of them. See what you can learn to improve your own use of the Law.

T. M. Moore

What is the place of the Law of God in the Christian’s life? Our book, The Ground for Christian Ethics, answers this question and shows us again why Jesus taught us that keeping the Law is an indispensable part of our calling God’s Kingdom. Order your free copy of The Ground for Christian Ethics by clicking here.

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ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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