Leading Question: Does God’s law condemn the sinner, or guide the sinner to a richer life?
- Terrifying Lawgiver and Gracious Lawgiver: The following passages help us explore the tension between a holy God from whom we are likely to flee in terror and gracious God before whom we bow in gratitude. How do we get the balance?
- Terror: Exodus 19:9 – 20:21 and Deut. 5:22-33: Bone-shaking terror at Sinai.
- Gratitude at Sinai: Deut. 4: 5-8: Moses expected the people to be really excited about the good news of a God who has shown them how to live. Given the hostile attitudes toward “law” in modern experience, how does one explain the buoyant praise of law in Ps 119?
- Invisible Law: Jer. 31:31-34: The evangelical tendency to oppose law and grace in the sense of condemnation and acceptance can obscure the fact that the “new” covenant is actually an Old Testament covenant intended for the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day. “New” should probably be translated as “renewed” covenant. But the most striking feature of Jeremiah’s new covenant is the fact that law is internalized to the point where the believer becomes quite oblivious to its presence. In short, when the law is written on the heart, we are no longer conscious of its presence in our lives. Responding to the law becomes automatic, like swimming or walking or riding a bicycle. Note Ellen White’s comment about the original status of law in a perfect world:But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, “I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart.” Psalm 40:8. – Mount of Blessings, 109
- Obedience Without the Law? Rom 8:1-16 and Gal 3:23-25; 5:13-26. Paul reveals a fair bit of ambivalence about law. But on several occasions he suggests that the condemning power of the law is not part of the believer’s life. “If you are led by the Spirit,” he declares, “you are not subject to the law” (Gal. 5:18). Yet the “works of the flesh” which immediately follow that verse indicate that the normative role of law is still very much alive. What, then is the proper attitude toward law.
- Big Stick or Big Heart? Two contrasting seat belt signs illustrate two very different approaches to law: “Buckle up, we love you” and “Click it or ticket”! Why is the former one so ineffective? Somehow, only the prospect of a fine motivates some drivers to take potentially life-saving actions seriously. Is this the same choice that Paul gives in 1 Cor. 4:21: “Stick or love in the spirit of gentleness”? Does 1 Tim. 1:8-11 shed any light on the need for law, both divine and human? “Law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient” (1 Tim. 1:9).
- Adapting the law to human needs. The looming image of a holy Lawgiver makes it more difficult for believers to admit to themselves the fact that some God-given laws no longer apply. This quotation from Ellen White suggests the progressive adaptation of the principles of law to the needs of fallen humanity.
If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. – Patriarchs and Prophets, 364
Question: Why does it feel so disrespectful and wrong to admit that laws God gave under very different circumstances should no longer apply at a later time? All God’s laws illustrate how he has dealt with people at different times and places. But only when the law is fully internalized will the need for a frightening lawgiver disappear.