Christians and the Law: A Love-Hate Relationship

We love God –it’s natural to love the One who sent His Son to save us. We also say that we love His Law –Jesus said that if we love Him then we’ll obey His commands. And those commands repeat much of those Old Testament Laws. Even so, we like the concept of everyone living harmoniously –respectfully and without all the meanness and crime.

But we also hate the Law because it continually condemns us. There’s no getting around the fact that we don’t –and really can’t– do all that it says. And, since it’s God’s Law, we’re sure that we keep Him angered enough to eventually send us to hell –or hopefully He will be merciful and let us have time to somehow make it up to Him.

With that as the basis for this Christian life, just what do we do? There are only a few options. We can try to ignore the whole thing –including Him –trying to live a good life. (Some call that backsliding.) We can choose a group to associate with that has picked the parts of the Law that we like and rationalized away the rest. (Outsiders laugh at that hypocrisy.) And we can simulate what the Old Testament Jews did by offering sacrifices –not those with blood of course. We do acts of penance –make sorrowful confessions –deny ourselves things we like –give more to good works. And just maybe those will please Him enough to get us back on His good side.

As a way out, some have adopted a work-around. “If we just love everyone, including God, then we’ve kept the Law.” That might be plausible –except for those few impossible people. Oh, but what about Jesus saying that we need to hate our family in order to love Him? He must not have meant what it says –there’s got to be a way to rationalize all of this.

Ugh. There lies the huge Christian dilemma –both loving and hating the Law.

The Answer

The answer to this mess has been staring us in the face for years and we’ve refused to believe it. Jesus really did abolish the Law –it no longer applies to us.

I hear the roar of an angry crowd shouting “That can’t be true. Jesus said in the last part of Matthew 5:17-18 that no jot or tittle will be taken away “until all things are accomplished” –maybe they were. . .

Good. Now I have your attention! You’re not here to re-read the things you’ve heard for years and that you can still hear from uncountable highly acclaimed sources –things that don’t work. I trust that you’re here to untangle those Bible passages so that they make sense and so that you can finally live that elusive abundant life.

How the Law Works

Merely understanding the Law’s purpose clears up most of the problem –but it takes an open mind. . .

All laws describe how things work. They identify a cause and an effect –a stimulus and a response –an action and a reaction. Hit a drum with a stick and it will produce a noise. Drop a crystal glass on the sidewalk and it will shatter. You say “that sounds like laws of science, not God’s Law.”

Well let’s consider a different sort then –a common traffic law. If the speed limit in a school zone is twenty miles per hour and your driving forty –and a policeman catches you– what does that law state? It’s straight forward. You go to court and pay the pre-established fine. The action was speeding and the reaction was paying the fine. That’s the law. Although we’ve heard the term “you broke the law,” that would only true if you didn’t pay the fine. The same principle applies to more serious matters –like robbery and homicide. When that offender finishes his jail sentence he has paid his debt –he has fulfilled the requirement of the law.

I’m not saying that that our legal-justice system assesses the right punishment or carries it out properly –people corrupt everything. But that doesn’t take away from the principle of how laws work. Actions get reactions.

The Law is Severe

The Ten Commandments do the same thing. Seven of them require the death penalty. The others involve repayment for the loss of property or expulsion from the community.

Here’s where it gets sticky for Christians. When we “cause” one of those Ten situations, we don’t like the “effect” –the punishment– that the Law demands (as it is written). We “interpret” them so they’re more to our liking –at least so they’re more “reasonable.”

Surely we shouldn’t be stoned to death for speaking out to a parent when we’re young. Nor for working on the Sabbath (or Sunday) if that’s what’s required by our employer. Nor for adultery –especially the way Jesus defined it (merely a lustful glance). Simple coveting was to be punished by deportation from the country.

And so our rationalizations continue. . .

The Law . . . Really

Let’s go back to the basics. Even God’s Law describes how things work –actions and reactions –causes and effects.

Jesus said all of it –the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms– is about Him. I refer to it as His autobiography. After all, He is the Word spoken to create the universe. And since He is the Word that was spoken to the Prophets –which in turn tells about Himself– then what they wrote was His autobiography.

Whether you agree with the autobiography part or not, it doesn’t change the fact that the Bible is all about Him. There’s the account in the seven days of creation that depicts His birth, death, resurrection as our salvation. There’s the narrative of Adam and Eve which details what He did to live with us, to take our sin on Himself, and to reconcile us to God. There’s the story of Jonah that not only tells of His death and resurrection, but also of our judgment and eternal salvation, and what He experienced through it all. There’s the Exodus that describes being reconciled (following Moses, the Law, through the Sea), being born-again (after death in the desert) and following Joshua (Jesus’ Hebrew name –meaning Jehovah’s salvation) across the Jordan into the Promised Land (the kingdom of God). There’s Samson who didn’t just die for the sins of the world, but who loved the world and Israel and especially those who trust Him for eternal life.

So the Law describes Jesus, His purpose and His accomplishments.

But it does one other monumental thing. It shows that no one else is Him. The Ten Commandments were the first part of the Law. It was to shut everyone’s mouth and make us all accountable to God (that’s in Romans 3:19-26) and it’s to lead us to Jesus like a school teacher (in Galatians 3:23-24).

Knowing Can Be Freeing

Looking at our failures –both behaviors and attitudes– and comparing them to the Law can be freeing. It’s supposed to show that we’re not Jesus. We’re not the Savior of the world. We’re not God in the flesh. We’re not even good –only God is good. Our goodness is like filthy rags. Our flesh will never inherit the kingdom.

We were dead –separated from God. But we’ve been born-again into an eternal life. Eternal means never-ending. God has split us in two –circumcised our innermost being– so that our relationship with Him can’t be spoiled by our stupid or malicious ways. We have been joined with Him as the bride of the Lamb –the eternal King over all creation.

The Law also tells us so much more about Him than the New Testament. It clearly portrays those who act like God –but aren’t Him– as evil kings, bad armies, wicked prophets, treacherous family members. And it shows the immensity of His love by His acts –as the Passover Lamb who protects us from death, the eternal cleansing water of Red Heifer, the living water flowing from within us, the life-giving Manna who came from heaven, the fruit from the tree of life (His blood and His flesh), the sufficient sacrificial blood taken into the Holy of Holies (where the veil was torn), the sacrifices of Atonement, the pillar of smoke and fire leading us in daytime and night, the bronze serpent held up on the stake to take away sins, the Ark who fulfilled the Law (the tablets) the bread of life (manna in the jar) and new birth (Aaron’s rod that budded). These all tell us about Him.

When He took His last breath on the cross, He also wrote the last sentence of His autobiography by saying “It is finished.” Everything described by the Law was completed –it was fulfilled. That’s when the Law was abolished. When we understand the significance of that statement then we can rest from our works of doing good and avoiding evil –we can enter God’s rest. You have a new identity in Christ.