8. The Law of God

When we see the damage that sin has done to the whole of creation (Genesis 3:17-19), we realize the importance of recognizing sin for what it is. God gave us His Law, so that we could know what is right and what is wrong. A law is a fixed standard of behaviour. Laws govern the universe: the movement of the stars and planets, science and mathematics, biology and all other aspects of creation. These laws are part of God's creation. Every group of people in the world, regardless of how primitive or developed it is, also produces laws of conduct to regulate their affairs. God gave His laws to man, not to restrict him, but to protect him, just as a farmer puts up fences around dangerous places in order to protect his flock. Obedience to His laws ensures equal opportunities for all mankind, unrestricted by the unlimited freedom of others.

God Reveals His Will

The Law of God is revealed in two ways:

1. In the conscience of man.

“The Gentiles (= non-Jews) ... show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” (Romans 2:15; see also Titus 1:15.)

2. In the Bible.

In the Bible the Law is called the “Law of the Lord” and also the “Law of Moses”, because it was revealed to Moses on the mountain at Sinai (Exodus 20). The spirit of this Law was revitalized and interpreted by Jesus in his sermon on the mountain (Matthew 5-7). God's Law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, covers and regulates all affairs between God and man and between men.

The Ten Commandments

We find different types of laws in the Bible. The Moral Law is God's abiding and eternal will and standard for mankind. Besides this we also find Ceremonial Laws that governed the bringing of sacrifices (for example Leviticus 1-7), and the Laws of Custom that explained what is right or wrong in certain situations (for example Exodus 21). The whole of the Moral Law is condensed in the Ten Commandments:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them ...

3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.

5. “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

6. “You shall not murder.

7. “You shall not commit adultery.

8. “You shall not steal.

9. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.

10. “You shall not covet your neighbour's house. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.”

(Exodus 20:2-17.)

Jesus condenses these commandments into two:

1. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
    This is the first and greatest commandment.

2. “And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
    All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”

(Matthew 22:37-40).

If We Break The Law

Someone likened the Ten Commandments to a chain with ten links, which is firmly held by God above, and we hang from the lowest link. How many links must we break before failing? One! How many times must it be broken before we fail? Once! This illustration is confirmed in the Bible: “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).

A law is given to establish a standard by which righteous judgement is to be passed. It is nothing less, but also nothing more. A law cannot pardon. It judges not. That is done by the judge in accordance with that law. So nobody can hope to be reconciled to God by the law.

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20).

“. Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law ..” (Romans 7:7).

By the Law we can know what is right in God's sight. If we take God seriously our first impulse is to try to keep the Law. We are inclined to forget all the sins that are still unforgiven. But is it possible to keep the Law according to God's perfect standard?

The Bible says

“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. (note: Because of our alienation from God!) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do . . . I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil that I do not want to do - this I keep doing” (Romans 7:14-19).

Law Against Law

As you continue to study your Bible, you will discover the reason for this sad state of affairs

Read Romans 7:21-23

This “law of sin” within every man is motivated and controlled by the devil. It is that force in me which makes me sin, even against the “law of my mind” that wishes to obey God. It is that sinful nature within us with which every human is born, being seperated from God since Adam's fall.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17).

A Hopeless Case?

There is therefore nothing so discouraging as trying to keep God's Law according to His holy standards. Jesus explains that God does not only look at our deeds. He judges us even by our thoughts!

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks as a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

However much we may try to keep God's Law in the future, we have already broken it. And, because of our sinful nature, we will break it again! This totally disqualifies us from ever reaching God's approval of our life. We, like everybody else, are already under condemnation. Like Paul, a man of the highest ethics, we have to cry out:

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).

Fortunately, God reveals the answer to us in the Bible.

Test Yourself No. 8

Answer the following questions and compare your answers to these.

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