Why the Law?


imagesThe Law confused me for a few years. The laws within the Law do not always confuse me. Some are pretty clear, “You shall not murder.” If I buy a Hebrew slave, he serves for six years, but on the seventh he goes free (Exodus 20:13 & 21:2). Yet because of the sheer volume, understanding the Law requires (and would have required) a lot of study in order to rightfully interpret and apply it. What confused me was my relationship to the Law and how I, a Gentile believer should view the Law?

This is a simple article, intended to keep the Law and a believer’s relationship to the Law simple. Books have and could be written to explain every point discussed in this article. Brevity is intended.

Four truths about the Law help navigate to a proper understanding of the Law and the believer’s relationship to it. To draw out these four truths, I answer four questions. What is the Law? Why the Law? How does the Law relate to a believer? Is there value in studying the Law? (For an excellent sermon on this issue, listen here by Dr. Bill Barrick (his handout here), The Most Important Old Testament scholar you may never have heard of).

What is the Law?

The Law is the covenant instituted by the Lord given to Israel on Mount Sinai after leaving Egypt (Exodus 19-20). “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine” (Ex. 19:5).

First, the Law is an entire body of work, not just the Ten Commandments. In America, we want to make the Ten Commandments a special law unto themselves and turn them into ten foundations to a believer’s life. The doctrine in the Ten Commandments are edifying and reveal the Lord’s character, but they do not stand alone. They are united to the rest of the Law. Laws related to owning an ox, offering the right sacrifice, and placing a parapet around your roof are all equally a part of the Law as the Ten Commandments.

Many will divide the Law between ceremonial, moral, and civil. Indeed many of the laws can be systematically placed into this category. However do not confuse the ability to systematize a tripartite distinction with disunity. After all, aren’t the civil laws moral too? James says, “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (2:10). James and Scripture authors treat the Law as a unified work.

Therefore here is a quick answer to the question, What is the Law? The Law is the entire law code given to Israel when they left Egypt, established as a covenant between the Lord and Israel. [1]

Why the Law?

There are two answers to this question and both have significance to the believer.images-1

First, the Law was given to Israel so they would be a nation of missionaries.

“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).

What does it mean to be a kingdom of priests? Was God telling Israel everyone would serve in the temple involved with sacrifices for all the nations? If so, then why is Aaron’s designated as the priestly family for Israel? It seems more likely Israel was to serve as mediator to the nations, revealing God’s character and spreading the Gospel.

Moses sums up the Law to the second generation,

“See I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to posses it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7)

Second the law reveals our transgressions and points to the need for Jesus sacrifice on the cross.

“Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. . . . But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:19, 22-24).

God instituted the Law because people are sinners. The Law was a custodian and tutor. It’s purpose was to teach, protect, and point people to a greater salvation by faith in Christ Jesus! The Law was never meant to bring justification. “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Gal 3:21).

So why the Law? Quick answer. The Law was given to Israel so people could learn about the true living God who owns the world, what He demands and yet their inability to obtain righteousness through it points people to their need for a savior.

How does the Law relate to a believer?

There is a similar question we could ask. How does the Law relate to any person?

images-2First, who was the Law given to? It was given as a covenant to Israel. The Law is not binding on a Gentile.[2] So, wait, you’re saying the Ten Commandments are not binding on my American family? Good question. Remember what and why the Law. It is a covenant given to Israel for Israel to reveal His character and point us to Christ. Also, remember it is not just the Ten Commandments, but also the laws related to diet (see Leviticus 11:7-8). Do you eat bacon? If a person is under the Ten Commandments, then he or she is also restricted from bacon. Do we take sacrifices to the altar? If the Law is still in effect, then we must offer sacrifices.

The simple answer to the question, “Are Gentiles under the Ten Commandments or the Law?” No.

Is a believer under the Law? “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Law). For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:25-26). Hebrews says, “‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first (Mosaic) obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (8:13). On the cross Jesus ended the Law and inaugurated the New Covenant. Because the New Covenant exists, believers are under the New and no believer is under the old Covenant.

Believers are now united to Christ, free from any law. Here is the common objection, “Wait, if the Law or law is not binding on me, then I am free to sin and do as I please.” God gives us an answer to this question. Romans 6:1 asks the same question and then answers in 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life.”

We need to know our old life is gone, no longer dead in trespasses and transgression. We are alive in Christ and need to live to honor Him! We have a future hope, live like it.

How does the Law (or law in general) relate to a believer? Short answer, you are no longer under it because you are a new creation united to Christ in a new family.

Is there value in studying the Law?

So I’m not under the law. It is not binding on me. I do not have freedom to do whatever I want because I am united to Christ, so why study the Law? Why not just read the New Testament? Because the Law teaches us doctrine about the Triune God’s character.

2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God”. Is the Law Scripture? Yes. Is it inspired by God? Yes. “and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” Is the Law profitable for teaching? Yes. It teaches us doctrine. It teaches us about the holiness, justice, mercy, salvation, and character of the Triune God. When I read the Law, I am reading about standards the Lord has for His Israel. There is much doctrine to learn in the Law. Some laws talk about being punished if you have an ox that is known to be crazy and could harm someone. I don’t have an ox, but I can see from there God desires I be responsible with my equipment so as to never harm anyone with it by negligence.

So there is value then in the Ten Commandments? Yes there is. It teaches us about Him! The Law reflects the Holy Trinity’s character and heart, we learn about Him. But to make it easier, if we strive to love someone according to biblical standards, then we will complete the essence of the Law (Rom 13:8-10). For the Law really teaches about loving your God and your neighbor.

[1] Throughout Jewish history, the Law or Torah is a reference to the first five books of the Bible, meaning Genesis is a part of the Law.

[2] See Romans 1-2 to see Paul’s discussion of sin, Jew, Gentile, and their relationship to the Law. Specifically note, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” (2:14-15). Paul argues God’s natural revelation (Rom. 1:18-20) is enough for any person to realize he or she does not hold up to God’s requirement.

  • sandrajune

    I’m so glad I get to ask this question! SO: if we Gentiles were never under the law and because of Jesus are free from the law, isn’t loving your neighbor as yourself STILL doing the law? It says all the laws “are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So I’m reading that thinking that by saying this we are STILL trying to fulfill the law. (Mind you, I’m not trying to get out of loving my neighbor…the New Testament makes that clear.) So many say “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself and you will have fulfilled all the laws. Now you can eat bacon and wear mixed fabric!” but I thought Jesus fulfilled all the laws FOR me. This has been a question in my mind for some time now. Either we are trying to fulfill a law, or we are free from the law in Christ. And if we are free from one law (like bacon) why aren’t we free from all laws? This seems like double-talk (though I know it’s not) and it’s confusing. Can you clear this up for me?

    • Jason

      Sandra, Great question! I think what Paul is trying to say in Romans is, “The point of the Law ‘boils down” for us to honor God, love Him, and show others the same love.” Jesus did fulfill the Law for you and just because we love others, doesn’t mean we are under the law or trying to complete the law. (btw, what I mean by Jesus fulfilled the law is He was the perfect sacrifice the Law demanded — see Hebrews chapters 9-10:25).

      We never were under the Law as Gentiles and a believing Israelite will not be bound to the Law either. God will not judge you for failing to have a parapet on your roof. He is not going to judge you for one law and not another. Because the law is a unified body of work, for Israel, and we’re under the NC, we are not held accountable to individual laws or the law in general. We are free from the Law, the chains of sin broken off, and given a new heart. This new heart allows us to actually follow and honor God with our actions and thoughts.

      But I think Romans 6:15-19 might answer your question specifically. We are not under the law. We have been set free from our sin [nature] and willingly are slaves to Christ to obey Him. Christ tells us to love others, consider others needs as more important than our own, and serve others like they are Him (Phil 2).

      So, we are free from the Law b/c we are united to Christ. We are free from all laws. And yet, no true Christian would use our freedom for licentiousness. 🙂

      • sandrajune

        I have to listen to the sermon (and I apologize: I forgot the sermon link). I am trying to resolve it with the Keller article (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency) which ties in with the RC Sproul article (https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/threefold_law.html) and your article.
        My understanding is that Jesus fulfilled all the laws — not just in His sacrifice but from the day He was born until He died: all the dietary laws, the cleanness laws, the moral laws, the sacrificial laws, the observation on holy day, etc. And therefore, as you have said, God will not hold a believer to those laws. We are given a new heart with His laws on them, but they are obviously somehow different because of Jeremiah’s scripture saying this would be new. So the Law is a mirror but not a tutor. Yet even though we are free from the Law (and as Gentiles never under it anyway), we would still not transgress it because it shows what God considers good and reflects His character. So why DON’T I need parapet? (BTW: thanks for that one, until now I could only think of lobster, polycotton blends, and beef stroganoff! LOL) I think I’m getting it but I’m only this close….

    • Jason

      btw, listen to that sermon, it really helped me and if you want the hand out he provided, email us at parkingspace23@gmail.com and I can get it to you. 🙂

  • J A S O N D R U M M

    My favorite part of this post: “Dr. Bill Barrick, The Most Important Old Testament scholar you may never have heard of.” 🙂 Also, if there is ever a part 2, I’d love to hear your thoughts on folding in 2 Cor 3. (thanks bro, good post)