The Goodness of God’s Law

Written on: March 1, 2024

Article by: Dave Knutson

Text: Deut. 4:1-14

Within Christian fellowships, there are some perfectly good Biblical words that have been given a negative connotation. One such word is the word ‘law’. This has happened despite the very positive way in which the Bible speaks about God’s law. Where then has this negativity come from?

For one thing, it has roots in the writings and the theology of Martin Luther who like other Reformation leaders was a reactionary. He reacted in particular against a monastic form of Catholicism. As a monk, Luther tried very hard be righteous by following the rules of his order, but he failed. He had tried to merit salvation – but even within the ‘catholic system’, no amount of penance worked.

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He then turned to the “merit of the saints” hoping to draw on the treasury of their surplus righteousness, only to discover from scripture that no such treasury existed.

Luther came to know that salvation is by the grace of God alone. But he believed that the devil, had morphed this gospel back into law, and had done this by insisting that there is a difference between grace and effective grace. Medieval teaching held that grace becomes effective when and only when the human will cooperates with God’s will. It takes hold…only at that point when a Christian acquires the habit of holy living. And grace only become effective enough to save a person when that one does his or her works of out of love.

But that was the sticking point. When “works of love,” are necessary for salvation, then grace is converted into law and destroyed. So, Luther concluded that the law was a curse because it killed his hope and kept him lost.

This was one of Satan’s greatest achievements and Luther’s undoing. This theological baggage has been handed down and still burdens some of us – albeit unnecissarily, because Luther was wrong. He misunderstood the nature of God’s law and missed the real relationship between grace and works.

The book of Deuteronomy encourages us to think again about this thing that the Bible calls ‘law’, which was given for the second time to that generation of Israelites who had been born in the wilderness. As we do this, let’s ask the question: is this passage saying something positive or negative about the law?

In fact, what is the attitude or disposition of the Old Testament toward the law of God – given through Moses? Consider some of the psalms:

Speaking of the man who is blessed by God, the psalmist writes: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night. Psalms 1:2

And then commenting on the function of the law:

  • Psalms 19:7 states: The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
  • Psalms 37:31 “The law of his God is in his heart; His steps do not slip”
  • Psalms 40:8 “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.”
  • Psalms 119:18 “Open my eyes, that I may behold Wonderful things from Your law”
  • Psalms 119:97 “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day”
  • Psalms 119:142 2 “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth”

This is how the reforms of Ezra began (7:10) For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Summarizing – God’s law:

a. Restores the soul, b. It makes wise, the simple c. Keeps our spiritual steps from slipping, d. Is a delight to the mind – an object of meditation and insight. e. It is truth – as God is truth f. There is no higher calling than to study God’s law, to practice it and share it with others

I have not found any negative references to the Law of God in the O.T.. Each is good and positive, which is what we’d expect, for the God who gave the law had it inscripturated and preserved. This is also true when you come to the New Testament.

Speaking of the Law given through Moses, Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18

Jesus lived his life on earth under this law. He kept it perfectly and fulfilled all that was promised in it. Despite not keeping the law, the apostle Paul had to admit: “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”. Romans 7:12

Let me submit to you – that the covenant which God established through Moses, accomplished all that God had in mind for it.

The book of Deuteronomy, starting with chapter 4 suggests a number of purposes that God had in giving the law.

The law of God was given to Israel as an expression of God’s love. God chose them because he loved them and made a promise to their fathers. (Dt. 7:7-8). God wanted Israel to love him right back, for loving God and keeping his commands have always been inseparable. Moses says this plainly in Deut 11:2: “You shall therefore love the LORD your God, and always keep His charge, His statutes, His ordinances, and His commandments.

The law of God was given so that God’s people could come to know Him as a real person. God was being transparent. So the law reveals first of all, that God exists and is God. It reveals that the God who exists infinitely is a spirit. That He is God in heaven above and in earth beneath and lest we miss the point, we are not God

By giving the law, God exercised his divine right to command for in one way or another, God rules all of creation. He rules non-thinking part which must obey his will. And God calls those whom he has blessed with free-will, to submit to his authority by obeying his commands.

The law exists – because God exists. The fact of the law reflects the fact that a law-giving God exists. It teaches that God does not have to explain himself to us for He is God and deserves our worship and obedience.

The law is more than just a fact. The law has form and substance. It is filled with detail and in this case it’s not the devil that in the details, but God himself. It is entirely proper to reason from the nature of the law, to the nature of the law-giver. The Law of God is a window into the mind of God. It is self-disclosure of the highest sort and it offers a very special kind of intimacy

You can’t be close to someone who you keeps at arms-length. Best friends have few secrets. This is what the law of God was for, for in it, God has opened himself up to human scrutiny. He is not the strong and silent kind but strong and outspoken.

The law of God broke a silence that was centuries old. It told God’s people that he had not forgotten them, but loved them and wanted to bless them always.

You could say that the law of God put the love of God into words starting with an explaination of why he rescued them from Egypt. They were chosen and beloved for the sake of the fathers… Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was more than anyone could have hoped – that God was real and really their God.

But the law of God was more than just a revelation, it was given to invitation to share in God’s nature. God expressed this by saying “you are to be holy, for I am holy”. God wanted his people to share in his nature by thinking and acting as he did.

So for example, God always tells the truth. God wanted Israel to become a nation of truth-tellers, so that they could experience an integrity between the things which they said were true and those which actually were…making them godly.

This principle is embedded in all of God’s commands. Each is an invitation to be like God.

Those who forgive as God forgives – experience the hurt, the pain, and the price of forgiveness in order to love the God who forgives. Those who rise above selfishness experience the nature of Jesus – who did not consider equality with God a thing to be held onto…but emptied himself to become a man.

There is no shortcut around obedience for there is no other way to become like God and to know Him. God wants us to taste, to see and to know…that He is good. We learn about God by studying his word. But we experience his goodness when we obey his will..

Now its important to understand that the power to make us holy was not present in the law itself.

As the apostle Paul put it in Romans 7, as laws multiplied, so did sin. The more detail that God unfolded about His righteousness, the more we knew that we were not like him. So a large part of the Bible recorded the historical failure of those who sought to be His people. The law convicts us of sin – without providing a final solution.

Which brings us to another thing that God had in mind for his law. His law was given to promise and to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ. It looked to the coming of the one who through perfect obedience, would fulfill it. The one whose sacrifice would bring to an end the need for sacrifice

That’s why Moses wrote:

`I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him. Deut. 18:18-19

In Acts 3:15-23, Peter and John declare that Jesus Christ is the prophet like Moses. As Moses was a redeemer and a law-giver, so will the prophet like Moses be. He will speak in God’s name and will all be judged by his words.

It comes as no surprise then that the N.T. speaks favourably about law. And while the law given through Moses has passed away, the law of Jesus Christ remains.

Paul speaks of that law in Romans 8:2:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

When Jesus set us free from sin, he did not set us free from law. He did not say; ‘Now that I have forgiven you, go and do whatever you want”. The law of God remains, it is just a different law.

The Hebrew writer points out that a change of priesthood implies a change of covenant, for when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change of law also. Hebrews 7:12

Christ is the mediator of a new covenant according to Hebrews 9:15 and it is the one promised by Jeremiah in 31:31-34.

But I want to be very clear about something: there is no prophecy anywhere in scripture that anticipates the removal of law itself. The N.T from start to finish, condemns lawlessness.

In Romans 6:19 Paul wrote:

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

The apostle John just comes right out and says that sin is lawlessness – in 1 John 3:4 “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness”.

So Christ has not delivered us from law. He has delivered us to a higher law than anything known before. But if that was all that Jesus had done, we would just be in more trouble – for the gap between the nature of God and our conduct would be that much wider.

Instead, Jesus has caused us to become righteous as he is righteous. He has made it possible for us to participate in his nature. This is the gift that he has given by inviting us to be spiritually united with him.

Which brings us back to the passage in Romans 8:1-4, where Paul wrote:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Gospel is still the gospel and salvation is in every way a gift, purchased for us by Jesus. He became a man to rescue humanity. He lived sinlessly, to offer himsels as a pure sacrifice for our sins. He fulfilled every righteous requirement of the law and they are fulfilled by each of us if we are in Him.

That does not mean that we can live any way that we want. The new life that we enjoy is life in the Spirit of God. God calls us to walk by the Spirit of Christ, cooperating with him in word and deed. We must not grieve, or quench or resist the Holy Spirit.

We have been created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of doing good works (Eph. 2:10). So let us obey the commandments of Jesus (John 14:15, 15:14), and may we avoid the works of the flesh Gal.5:19-21

God has set us free from sin so that we may truly live.

Barrie ON