If you read the previous post, then I’m sure you have a burning question. If you haven’t read the previous post, by all means click here and get fired up, if you must.
Here’s what I suspect some of you want to say. “Jimbo (Why do my detractors insist on calling me “Jimbo!”), it sounds like you want us to all live under the Old Testament Law. Isn’t the Law just a tutor that leads us to Christ: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). It was given as a mirror through which we might see our brokenness compared to the holiness of God and thereby see our need for a Savior. Honestly, attempting to live by the Law is a fool’s errand. Who could actually do that, anyway? The Law is bad mojo; grace is where it’s at. So why are you trying to put a positive spin on the Law?”
This is a fair question. Galatians 3:24 does indeed indicate that the Law serves as a tutor. Although the exact nature of this tutelage is not specified, some have represented it in a decidedly negative light. I hear preachers use this verse to declare that the Law was designed to convince us we cannot save ourselves. Once we come to Christ, then the Law has fulfilled its function. As a tutor, the Law helps someone come to the cross but therafter becomes irrelevant.
I believe the Scriptures clearly teach something quite profound and strikingly different about God’s Law, namely, that those who have been saved by grace can use God’s Law to great benefit as a guide to personal transformation. This statement warrants an extended discussion in some future series of posts. For now, let me simply throw some light on what transpired when Moses gave “The Book of the Law” to Israel and commended it to parents as a vital child-training tool.
Three Key Observations About The Law
(1) The Law was not given to Israel as a means to earn redemption - Israel was first redeemed, then given the Law. Before ever receiving the Law, Israel was freed from bondage in Egypt and shown great favor. This sequence is pointedly declared by God Himself when He gave Israel the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-2ff). True enough, the Pharisees at the time of Jesus had perverted the Law from its original purpose and were attempting to use it to earn God’s favor. But when the Law was originally given, it was given as a gift to a people who had already been profoundly and miraculously blessed by God. The Law was provided to show a redeemed people how to live out their gratitude to their redeemer.
Since the invention of the automobile, over three million people have been killed in traffic deaths in the United States. So what would you think if someone said, “Karl and Bertha Benz invented the automobile to kill people?” Sounds a little harsh to me! They invented the automobile (called a Benz Patent-Motorwagen) to make it easier to go from point “a” to point “b.” Bertha, along with her sons Eugen and Richard, took Patent-Motorwagen #3 on the first road trip in 1888 to prove precisely that point. It is true that Motorwagens, horseless carriages, automobiles, and cars have been killing people ever since. But that is a result of the misuse of their invention and does not represent its intended purpose.
Similarly, we should not confuse the purpose of the Law with what results from its misuse. It was given to Israel to help them flourish in the Promised Land. Sadly, when misused by the Pharisees, the Law did not make life better but worse. It fueled pride and self-righteousness and produced judgment and condemnation. But that was not the Law’s intended purpose. Those who claim that the Law was given to Israel just to produce condemnation sound as reasonable as those who would declare that the automobile was invented to kill.
(2) The Law translates the holiness of God into objective standards of right and wrong pertinent to the life of an Israelite at the time of Moses. The Law shows Israel how to be holy in specific ways that mirror the holiness of God. This characteristic of the Law is clearly declared by God Himself. In a representative passage, Moses introduces a discussion of several of the Ten Commandments by first quoting God: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2). Moses then declares God’s follow-up commands: “‘Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the Lord your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves molten gods; I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 19:3–4). The holiness of Israel’s God is the center point of the Law. Anyone who is indifferent to the Law thereby demonstrates indifference toward God’s holiness. Anyone who loves God’s holiness will love His Law.
The Law is a marvel of holiness. It translates something abstract and wholly foreign to us into something imminently practical. Holiness, through the Law, becomes something to which men can relate. It specifies actions and attitudes that align with holiness. For someone with a desire to emulate God, this is a profound gift.
Christians sing many songs about God’s holiness. But I cannot think of any that praise God’s commandments or God’s Law. Shouldn’t a love of God’s holiness draw us to praise the commandments that translate holiness into terms we can understand? The Psalmist thought so! One of the greatest praise choruses of all time, Psalm 119, exudes praise for God’s Law: “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). He can’t stop thinking about it. And he wants God’s help to understand it and live it: “Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law And keep it with all my heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, For I delight in it” (Psalm 119:34–35). Having a practical field reference for holiness, a “spotter’s guide” that assists us to discern where holiness dwells, this is a true treasure. Someone who has been saved by God’s grace should have the greatest appreciation for such a treasure, and the highest of motivation to use it as an aid to holy living. This characteristic of the Law actually heightens its value for someone who has come to Christ. It shows him how to live in a way that positively reflects the character of his God and Savior!
(3) The Law was practicable when used according to its purpose. God gave the Law to Israel expecting them to use it as a guide for living. True enough, God was not oblivious to Israel’s spiritual dullness during their season in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 29:4). Neither was He oblivious to both individual and national failures to obey the Law that would play out in Israel’s future. But the Law was not an impossible assignment: “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach” (Deuteronomy 30:11). The parents of John the Baptist effectively used the Law as a guide for how to live: “They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord” (Luke 1:6).
This should not be construed to mean that they were sinless (impossible!) or used works of the Law to earn salvation (also impossible!). Righteousness is reckoned to all men by believing God, Zacharias and Elizabeth included. It is precisely this righteousness in the sight of God through faith that enabled them to live lives that conformed to the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
When God gave Israel the Law, He provided something profoundly relevant to those who had received God’s favor, a practical portrait of His holiness, and the assurance that they could indeed live lives that demonstrated this holiness. This doesn’t sound like something irrelevant to a believer today. It sounds to me like something for which I would have an avid interest.
God gives good gifts. The Law is one of those gifts. By their use of this gift, God’s people will receive great aid in their efforts to become like Christ. I want all the help I can get.
“As obedient children, . . . like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Peter 1:14–15).
Want some practical suggestions about how to use the Ten Commandments as an aid to spiritual transformation in your home. Here's a great article from Mrs. Beaver! Check it out!