THE NATURE AND ROLE OF LAW
In the series on eschatology I endeavored to show the strategic role it plays in the Christian life. Most see eschatology as the “caboose” of theology, when in reality it is the “engine.” All of us are motivated by hope. We have short, intermediate, and long-range hopes. Our long-range hope is an eternity with God in heaven. Eschatology is the biblical study of what God says we can legitimately hope for on the other side of the grave.
One of the many implications/applications of eschatology is the nature and role of Law in the life of the believer. For this reason, this study naturally follows the preceding one. What role, if any, does law play in the life of the New Testament follower of Christ? Why does God establish laws? If it is true that “by law is the knowledge of sin,” why do some Christians argue that the New Testament believer is not under law? Does not law establish right from wrong?
Adam and Eve, placed in utopia, still craved autonomy. They broke the only law God gave them. We who inherit the nature of Adam are law-breakers. We need to understand the purpose of law. The progeny of Adam view law as restrictive; it destroys the ability to have fun. Conversely, a biblical world-view understands that law is an asset in obtaining the abundant life.
Much of what people do in their lives they do without understanding the reason behind it. For example, the child is fed nutritious food without understanding its importance. The soldier in war executes an order without understanding the strategy behind it. People are expected to drive at slower speeds than they deem necessary.
When people perform without understanding the purpose, they are easily swayed to change. If they are forced to perform, they easily rebel. Understanding the purpose of law is essential in curbing rebellion and properly relating to others. It is far easier to be compliant when we understand the reason behind the law. Although it is true that God does not promise us total understanding, especially in the specifics of why He asks us to do certain things, we can and should understand the overall reason why living under law is essential.
KINDS OF LAW
There are various kinds of laws and various ways to express them. In this presentation I will divide them as follows:
Scientific Law: These are the unalterable laws that govern the universe. They include the laws governing light, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, etc.
Moral Law: These are the laws of revealed religion that govern the behavior of man. They fit into two categories: Timeless moral laws that are part of the nature and character of God, (e.g., God’s commands not to kill, commit idolatry, and steal); and moral laws that are instituted by God, enforced for a period of time, but not part of His unchanging nature, (e.g., dietary and ceremonial laws in the Old Testament, and those laws proscribing the role of women in the New Testament).
Civil Law: These are laws enacted by the legislature that are not moral in nature. They include the regulation of commerce, taxation, and traffic.
In our study we will look at natural and moral law and by and large omit civil law. Scripture affirms civil law when it does not violate Scripture. The State is free to make any law that does not require the believer to break the commandments of God. Such law is relative and subject to change by the legislature. Thus we will discuss civil law only when it touches on moral law.
I will base my approach to this subject on logic and reason. I am not a historian or expert on other religions, but I do understand, in part, the implications of religious systems. Because a person’s religion shapes his world-view, which influences everything in life that he thinks or sees, theology is the pyramid of learning.
By way of illustration, you cannot have law without a lawgiver who requires accountability. You cannot have revelation without a Transcendent God who speaks. You cannot have sin without a personal God. You cannot have moral law without a personal God who has the power to exercise authority over all pretenders.
In order for law to be absolute and for sin to be absolutely wrong, there can be no multiplicity of gods. If there is more than one god, to which is a person accountable? This is the reason people like the idea of “many roads to heaven.” If there is a multiplicity of ways to relate to God, or gods, then my way is as valid as any other. Then I relate to “God” on my terms and in the process maintain my autonomy. Truth is relative and I create the law that governs my behavior from my reason.
All of this describes our culture. Personal autonomy is the highest good and tolerance the queen of virtue. We are led to believe that each person shapes his or her own morality. It may be possible to judge another’s motives, as the politician often says, “He has no heart for the poor.” But woe to the individual who dares to judge another’s behavior. That is tantamount to imposing my morality on others. The Bible says we dare not judge another’s motives, but are commanded to judge a fellow-believer’s behavior; the opposite of what is normative today. Such is the age in which we live.
No other religion in the history of man claims to worship a Transcendent God who speaks; only the God of Scripture and those sects spawned by the Judeo-Christian religion.
Mt. Sinai is unique in history. God gathered a nation at the foot of a mountain and spoke to them in a way that all heard Him. All agreed that God did speak, and all agreed what it was that He said. After hearing the Ten Commandments, the people said to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” The rest of the law was given by God to Moses on Sinai and communicated by Moses to the people.
DIVISIONS OF THE STUDY
I have divided this series into the following divisions:
Nature of Law
Law and Justice
Law and Man’s Inability to Govern Himself
Law and Love
Law and Self-denial
It seems to me that there are at least two reasons why people resist law:
1 – Pride: People do not want anyone telling them what to do. Such people don’t argue that the law is wrong; it is not an issue of right and wrong. Rather, they resent being told what to do. I am sure you are like I am in that you know people who rebel without a cause and destroy themselves in the process.
2 – They do not believe the law is in their interest. For such people it is a problem of perception. Reason determines the validity of law. For example, God has certain restrictions on how people are to satisfy their sexual appetites. God says, “You may have more than one wife, but have sex only with your wife.” The world says, “You may have sex with as many people as you would like, but you may only have one wife.” Even among the followers of Christ, people struggle with this. I am not advocating polygamy, and they are not advocating promiscuity. Nevertheless, under certain circumstances, it seems reasonable to modify God’s commands. If a person is in a truly unhappy marriage, will not God understand that the person made a mistake and allow for divorce and remarriage? Granted that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but the couple will eventually marry. If genuine commitment is present, is pre-marital sex really that bad?
I will discuss this in more detail as I develop the series, but note that evangelical Christianity tolerates the breaking of all God’s commands. Although there are wonderful exceptions, generally speaking, evangelicals allow, without discipline, the violation of all biblical commands. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a single command that is an exception. Culture rather than Scripture determines what is normative in the life of the church.
No society can exist without the presence of Law. A person may refute the existence of absolute moral law, but society cannot exist without assuming the existence of morality. For example, I may reason philosophically that law is cultural and that our law does not apply in, say, Irian Jaya. Law is relative and must be changed to adapt to the existing culture. But the people of Irian Jaya cannot live in community with the people of the United States without a common law. Furthermore, we cannot create a common law without agreeing on what is morally right.
In practice, the existence of society assumes that morality is absolute. We hear a great deal of discussion on the relativity of truth. In reality, no one believes that truth is relative. One of the most dogmatic and legalistic environments is the university campus. If a person is not politically correct, fighting agreed upon causes and refraining from all language deemed inappropriate, then censorship and ostracization results. If a person practices homosexuality, divorces, lives in violation of biblical law, this is tolerated. All agree that truth is absolute. The question is who gets to define the absolutes? Today society debates the answer to this question.
I will close this first issue and begin discussing the nature of law in the next letter. The study on eschatology, although practical, tended to be esoteric. I hope that this series will be easier to follow and will generate questions and opposition. I encourage you to inter-act with me. Paul says in Acts 17: 11: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” I hope that you will challenge what I write and return to Scripture to prove me wrong. This is an important component in the strategy God uses to change our lives.
His obedient servant,
 Cf. Romans 3:20
 Cf. I Corinthians 4:1-5
 Cf. I Corinthians 5
 Cf. Exodus 20:19
 Cf. Matthew 18:15-18; I Corinthians 5