Law as Restraint

Here is an important reason why we need God's Law.

The Law of God Miscellanies (2)

He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Matthew 19.8

What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Galatians 3.19

Reflect and discuss.
1.  Israel did not have a heart to obey God’s Law, yet He gave them His Law anyway. What do you suppose life in Israel would have been like without the Law of God?

2.  We might think that the Law was not needed in the beginning, before Adam and Eve fell into sin. But is that really true? Did God give any Law to Adam and Eve? Do even perfect and sinless people need guidance from the Lord? Explain.

Think about it.
We cannot afford to ignore the Law of God. The Law was given because the hearts of God’s people were hardened against Him, like the hearts of all people. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, sin became a permanent fixture of the human condition (Rom. 5.12). And one of the tendencies of sin is to rebel against God and exalt oneself as god in His place (cf. Rom. 1.18-32).

This can be seen easily enough when we recall how quickly the people of Israel turned to idols following their deliverance from Egypt. Though they had seen the greatness and glory of God, and had received the benefits of His saving grace, even then they built a calf and cavorted before it. 

The Law marks out the path of righteousness. It serves as guardrails, showing where not to go, and as pavement, marking the path of safety and life. But the Law is not righteousness, and keeping the Law does not make us righteous. Only God, especially as we may know Him in Jesus, is righteousness, as Jesus’ subsequent conversation with the young rich man shows us (Matt. 19.16-22). And only the Spirit and Word of God can bring us into the righteousness of Jesus (Jn. 6.63; 2 Cor. 3.12-18). The Law restrains our sinful impulses and inclinations, as we follow Jesus and obey Him, trusting in Him like little children (Matt. 19.13-15). Jesus is the last word on righteousness and the Law, and the apostles are the final judges with Him of how we must obey the Law as we follow Him (Matt. 19.27-29). 

Jesus is the true Tree of Life, while all the things of this world – riches, families, lands, and more – represent the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They are ours to know in abundance (v. 29), but only once we have eaten from the Tree of Life – only after we have come to faith in Jesus. Otherwise, things can become idols, which, like our first parents and the forbidden fruit, we choose to indulge, rather than to obey the Lord, thus unleashing all our most vile, covetous, and self-serving ways. 

The Law illuminates and condemns our sinful tendencies and practices, but even more, it points the way to true righteousness and life in Jesus. We need the Law of God because the law of sin still operates within us (Rom. 7.13-23). Ignore the Law, and you make yourself willfully ignorant of – and certain to be overcome by – the power of sin.

Meditate and discuss.
1.  James warned his readers not to indulge the sinful tendencies lingering within their souls (Jms. 5.1-12; cf. Jms. 4.7-10). Here is a look at how to make good use of the Law as a restraint of sin. What particular sins did James address in these verses? To which of the Ten Commandments do these relate?

2.  Meditate on Leviticus 19.13 and 19.17, 18. Does it seem to you James had these in mind as he wrote his letter? Look also at verse 12, and consider this verse in its original context (Matt. 5.33-37). How does James’ reference to Jesus teach us to think about the Law?

3.  The Law not only shows us our sin; it also warns us that God will act against our sins to get us back on the path of righteousness. James certainly implied this in his exhortation in these verses. How did the writer of Hebrews explain this (Heb. 12.3-11)? How can we avoid such “miseries” and “chastening”?

“Think how great is the wickedness of those who not only refuse to share their wealth with the poor and needy but who go one step further and refuse to pay their workers the wages which are due to them!” The Venerable Bede (672-735 AD)

Lord, You mean for Your Law to guide my steps in the path of righteousness. I want to walk that path, Lord, therefore…


Pray Psalm 1.1-6.
Consider this description of the righteous person. To what extent does this describe you? Seek the Lord to guide you more fully into the way of righteousness.

Psalm 1.1-6 (St. Thomas: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord)
How blessed are they that shun sin’s vain and wicked ways. 
For them has Christ salvation won; He loves them all their days. 

God’s Word is their delight; they prosper in its truth. 
In it they dwell both day and night to flourish and bear fruit. 

Firm planted on the banks of God’s great stream of grace, 
They raise unending praise and thanks to His great glorious face. 

The wicked are not so, but, driven by the winds, 
They fall and perish, weighed with woe, when once God’s wrath begins. 

In Jesus’ righteousness, though sinners fail and fall, 
His flock He will preserve and bless, who on His favor call.

T. M. Moore

For more insight to the Law of God and its role in the life of faith, order the book The Ground for Christian Ethicsby clicking here

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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. All psalms for singing adapted from 
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006.

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 Essex Junction, VT. 

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