Is the Law of God Illegal?
by Robert (Bob) Somerville
Is the Law of God Illegal?
Absurd as the question may appear to be, it is a legitimate one which has caused you to begin reading this document. Your interest was aroused because the subject of the LAW is one of great historical controversy. It often generates much polarization and all too frequently more heat than light. There are basically three stock answers commonly given to the question. They are essentially these: YES, NO and SORT OF!
What is the Biblical answer?
The scriptures affirm that the Law of God is ETERNAL (Ec 3:14). Although times have changed, circumstances have changed and the manifestations of the law have changed, the Divine Law of God is unchangeable and irrevocable.
But, what is meant by the word LAW? Attempts have been made to break down God's law into three primary divisions called the Moral Law, the Civil Law and the Ceremonial or Sacrificial Law (interesting and perhaps helpful for clarification but not necessarily Biblical). These are only manifestations of the Law of God. The eternal principles of God's divine law transcend all of these manifestations that often consume our time and attention. Divine Law is that principle of God that is perpetual and immutable (unchangeable) regardless of time, people or circumstance. It is the nucleus and governing factor for any action or conduct of God. This divine law of immutability is the one principle which the eternal God set to govern His own actions (Hebrews 6:17-18). The divine principles of life, death, reward, judgment, mercy, truth, worship and the like are perpetual laws of God which are not subject
to repeal or abrogation. Spiritual truths are life truths. All natural laws of physics which govern the universe are axioms of fixed and unchangeable determinations. These natural laws exist to reveal the immutability of the spiritual laws of God which comprise Divine Law (Ro 1:20, Ps 19:1-7).
A CHANGE – NOT AN EXCHANGE
"For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law" (Heb 7:12). Jesus effected a reformation in how the law was manifested (Heb 9:10). The New Covenant was a change, not an exchange of one set of laws for another, nor for grace. This change was subtle in that it affected how the law was manifested. It is important that we make a clear distinction between the Law and the "manifestations" of the law. Here we must avoid getting bogged down in endless explanations of these manifestations which can become very confusing, but the few examples we shall give for clarification should be helpful.
Before proceeding further let us first state unequivocally that no one can be saved nor made righteous by works of the law including God's law. Frankly, it was never intended to serve that purpose from its very introduction (an erroneous opinion all too often held by Christians). We are saved by grace through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone (Eph 2:8-9). What purpose then does the law serve? The concept that one is redeemed through "works" of the Law has been dubbed "legalism", a trend greatly feared by the Church and rightfully cautioned against. But perhaps an inordinate fear of "legalism" has so infused the Church that even God's law has been victimized by it. The truth is that "illegalism" has plagued the Church far more than legalism and has wreaked far more havoc, but never reached "code word" status as the term "Legalism." Yet
all too often we have simply substituted institutional or denominational laws, which are viewed as being somehow safe and helpful, for the laws of God that are usually considered dangerous and "risky business".
It is necessary, particularly with this sensitive subject, that we deal in Bible absolutes. Here is a fundamental Bible absolute uttered from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Mt 5:17 NIV).
David in the Psalms informs us "the heaven and earth abide forever." Therefore, we must apply the same degree of eternality to the Law of God. Despite what is often quoted, there is no hint in Scripture that God's law was ever nailed to the cross, abolished, canceled, terminated, abrogated nor repealed. That traditional Christian idea needs to be put to rest. No noble cause is served in attempting to defend the concept of "grace" by discrediting the law. The only thing that could be remotely construed as suggesting that notion is the isolated mention of terminating "carnal ordinances", etc. (manifestations). This terminating effect (of fleshly rituals), the scriptures clearly confirm (Heb 9:10, Col 2:14). It is the underlying principles (laws) contained in those manifestations that must be perceived and understood as being the eternal irrevocable law of God. This is not difficult to understand.
For example, the "Law of Sacrifice" continues to be in force today. The death of Jesus on the cross did not cancel the sacrificial law. However, faulty interpretation of scripture has led many to think so and to act accordingly. The Church today should continue the practice of offering sacrifices. It is true that because of Christ we need no more slain or dead sacrifices to be offered for SIN. But there is a definite ongoing need for the Law of Sacrifice to be manifested in the Church and in the lives of God's people. The scriptures teach us that we are to be "living sacrifices" (Ro 12:1). In this instance, the "manifestation" of that law changed from animals to humans and from dead to living sacrifices but "sacrifice" nonetheless, i.e., by the sacrifice or the offering up of our time, finances, praises, worship, etc. (Php 4:18, Heb 13:15). We must have in our lives an ongoing "physical" manifestation of God's laws because we must reflect His divine nature and character. To say that the Church is in desperate need of this sacrificial manifestation today is a definite understatement. God's laws are as eternal as He is. The future trend of the Body of Christ must be, to conform to His image.
The Apostle Paul gives further insight into this concept with the following statement in Ro 7:12, 13: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid..." The death of Jesus upon the cross was primarily for the purpose of changing the heart of man (Eze 11:19-20), not the law of God. It is inconsistent to suggest that God would destroy the very laws which He had purposed to write on the tables of mens' hearts. For this reason Paul could say "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law" (Ro 3:31). It is unconscionable that anyone would persist in a theology that Paul categorized as "God forbidden".
The laws of celebration are similar. God did not give a "cease and desist" order regarding the celebration of Biblical memorial days (primarily Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles) with the advent of Jesus as Messiah. Jesus is the very heart and soul of these Feast celebrations. What did change was the "manifestation". No more ancient ritualism was required for the Passover day celebration. Christ is our Passover (1 Co 5-7), Therefore we ought to partake of the "Lord's Supper" on that memorial day as He instructed (Luke 22:19). Biblical festivals are eternal celebrations. They should be celebrated in the light of the New Covenant and the eternal principle involved.
God's code of moral conduct and ethical standards knows as the "Ten Commandments" are still valid. While they have no redemptive value, nor was that their original purpose, they remain a measure for righteousness and a disciplinary guide.
Even the dietary laws, while not redemptive nor obligatory, are conducive to good health and a worthy guideline to the proper treatment of our "temples of the Holy Spirit". The scientific community could well endorse them.
THE LAW OF LIBERTY
"So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (Jas 2:12).
This passage is occasionally offered as "proof text" for asserting that we were liberated from the law of God. This scripture speaks entirely of our liberation from sin by the mercies of God. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has indeed made us free from the law of sin and death, but not free from the laws of God (Ro 8:2). A misconception of this reference to the "Law of Liberty" has too often resulted in a concept of a lawless liberty, i.e., turning liberty into
license. Liberty is the cornerstone of our democracy in the United States, but it is our legal system that guarantees the preservation of that liberty. The law of God remains valid. When we take occasion to transgress it, the debt is paid through repentance and faith in Christ's sacrifice. While disobedience to the law of God does not disqualify us from being children of God, unrepentance will exact a price.
The inclination to develop a theology that nullifies the law of God is perhaps a subconscious effort to absolve oneself from the responsibility of its requirements. If indeed the law of God had been abolished, the scripture teaches that it would be impossible to sin (1 John 3:4, Ro 5:13). The very existence of sin confirms the perpetuity of God's laws. There is a form to godliness and it is the law that defines it (2 Timothy 3:5). At the same time we must not deny the power (spiritual dimension).
The theology of "lawless grace" (antinomianism, i.e., "sin that grace may abound") reveals a gross lack of vision in the big picture of what is involved in the Gospel of the Kingdom. The destiny of the people of God is to rule and reign with Christ in an eternal physical kingdom upon the earth. The world will be subjected to the law of God that comes forth from Mt. Zion. What law will it be? It will be the same eternal law that has existed before time in the bosom of the Father, manifested at different times in different ways, but the same in principle. That law will once again be the international "law of the land" to be obeyed by the peoples of earth and manifested as is directed from Jerusalem.
So! Is the Law of God illegal? It really is an absurd question after all!
"The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul..." (Ps 19:7).