February 28 – Purpose of the Law

February 28 – Purpose of the Law

1 Peter 1:14-16

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

Why is law to some a hobgoblin of incarnate evil to be exorcised from life, while to others it is the only hope of salvation? What is law’s purpose, and how can it be known?

A law is any rule or injunction that must be obeyed. In religion, these rules normally make requirements of a ceremonial or ritual kind and of an ethical or moral kind. In fact, these laws are so prominent in most religions as to be considered the substance of those religions. This was true of the Jewish religious leaders in Christ’s day, and it is true in much of Christendom today. Is this the biblical point of view? Certainly, there are many laws in the Bible—more than six hundred Mosaic commandments and more than six hundred direct commandments in the New Testament. Are they rules that must be obeyed? Can they be obeyed? If not, for what purpose were they given? Before these and other vital questions can be answered it is important to permit the Bible itself to define the term.

The Bible uses the term law in several ways, and often these meanings are not differentiated precisely. In some passages of the New Testament a more specific meaning is clearly seen. Some say there are as many as twelve distinct uses of the term. Here are some of them.

Is the law the expressed will of God that people be like Him morally? God created man in his own image morally. There are, no doubt, other elements in man’s likeness to God, but a morally right character is primary. It is the basis of shared love and fellowship; it is indispensable to demonstrating in human life the glory (glorious character) of God. Mankind has ever neglected this aspect of God’s image and worked to attain likeness to God in his attributes of knowledge and power. This was Satan’s temptation to Eve: “You will be like God.” How? She was already like God in his moral nature. She rejected this likeness in order to reach for God’s infinities and from the outset lost both. All her descendants, save one, have followed in her steps. But God’s purpose remained the same: He wanted people to be like himself.

This is the purpose of the sovereign Lord, commanded through Moses at the beginning of the Old Covenant and through Jesus Christ at the beginning of the New Covenant: “You must be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:16), you must be perfect “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). It is not optional. Since it is a divine imperative, we properly call this will of God law.

It is wrong not to be like God morally. This wrong is not just a weakness or an unfortunate deviation from the norm. The Bible calls it sin. To be holy is to be separated from sin; to be right is to be in alignment with God’s character. This is the holiness required of men. It is an obligation, not mere instruction or advice. Without it no one will see God (Heb. 12:14).

This most important use of the word law is often called the “moral law,” God’s expressed will concerning what constitutes likeness to God. Does the New Testament use the term in this way?

When Paul speaks of the work of the law being written in the hearts of those who do not have the written law (Rom. 2:14-15), he is speaking of God’s moral law. When he says, “Through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20), he is referring to the moral law, or the commandments of God that deal with human behavior. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews sometimes uses the term law in the same way: “I will put my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts” (Heb. 8:10ff.; 10:16). This is especially significant since the Letter to the Hebrews usually uses law to mean the ceremonial system. Of course, one would expect James to use law in reference to the right behavior God demands of his people, and he does (James 1:25; 4:11).

This, then, is a common use of the concept of law in the New Testament as well as the Old: God’s expressed will that we be like him, commonly called the “moral law.” How can you purpose today to conform your behavior to God’s commandments? Not in an external adoption for approval rather in an alignment to God’s character- our demonstration of what God is like, His character and His rightness.

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