What is Law?

I think a discussion of the nature of law and of God’s law in particular would be beneficial.

Law is a command issued by an authority that is backed by a penalty for disobedience. Law is only effective where the authority has jurisdiciton. That is, the authority’s law does not apply where he does not rule. Hence, we have various law codes because there are many different jurisdictions under different authorities. This situation is reflected in our federal, state and local governments.

God also has a law. When one transgresses God’s law, God calls that disobedience “sin” (I Jn 3:4). God has always had law. Law is inherent in nature, and God also gave the first man law to regulate his behavior (Gen 2:17). Later, after man sinned and was able to discern good and evil, God gave a more comprehensive law. This legal code from God that He gave after the Fall sometimes has been called “the Law of the Gentiles”. Clearly, men from Adam on down were sinners, because God had a law for men, and they transgressed it (Gen 4:7). This “universal moral code” applied to every man until Moses.

At Sinai, God gave a new law. This new law only applied to special group of people (Dt 4:7-8, 5:2-3). It came to be known as the Law of Moses (Josh 8:31), or, more frequently, “the Law” (Ex 24:12, Dt 4:44, 29:21, Josh 1:8, etc.). The Law of Moses (LOM) was a burdensome law designed to bring an unruly people to maturity (Gal 3:24, 19), but it ONLY applied to Israel. Now, when the LOM came, and it did not apply to the nations/Gentiles, that did not mean that the Gentiles could no longer sin. The Law of the Gentiles (LOG) was not repealed by the advent of the LOM, but the LOG continued in parallel with the LOM. The two laws could co-exist because they applied to two different people and had different jurisdictions. They did not conflict with one another, though they are very different, because they applied to two distinct groups of people.

Notice the important points about what we have just studied. There was a law, and people could sin, long before the Law of Moses. The Law of the Gentiles was not repealed by the introduction of a new law, for the two laws had different jurisdictions. There is no difficulty in two laws from God co-existing, even for centuries.

Now let’s fast forward from Sinai to Pentecost. During this time God was dealing with two sets of men with two separate laws. After Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, Jesus ascended back up on high where He offered His blood as an eternal sacrifice for sin (Heb 9:12). God accepted His sacrifice as the legal solution for sin and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God highly exalted Him (Php 2:8) and sat Him at His own right hand until all of Christ’s enemies are made the footstool of His feet (Acts 2:34-35). On the Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit who then revealed that Jesus had been made both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).

The implications of Jesus being made Lord are several. Because Jesus has all power in heaven and on earth, He now has the power to make laws. Christ has a kingdom now into which we are translated when we are translated out of the power of darkness (Col 1:13). Once we become a Christian, our citizenship is in heaven (Php 3:20), and we look to Christ for our laws, for He is our King. There are some things that King Jesus requires of His subjects that were not required of any other people. On the first day of the week, His citizens meet to partake of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), to sing (I Cor 14:23), to pray (I Tim 2:8), to give and (I Cor 16:1-2) to study His Law (I Cor 14:26-28). These were things that neither the Jews nor the Gentiles were obligated to do, because the people in the world are not under the Law of Christ, because they have not been translated out of the power of darkness, and are not in the kingdom of Christ. It is only when one becomes a Christian that one is translated into Christ’s kingdom and becomes amenable to His law.

When Christ became king and established the law of Christ for His people, it had no effect on the two laws that were already in existence. It had no effect on those laws because those laws applied to different groups of people. In the same way that the LOM had no effect on the efficacy of the LOG, the LOC did not conflict with the existing laws because it only applies to those called out people that voluntarily pledge allegience to Christ. Those that become Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28), and live under the Law of Christ.

Acts 21:20 shows that the Law did not cease to be efficacious at Pentecost, for Jewish believers kept the Law of Moses for many years after Christ was crowned king. Paul even kept the Law while he was in Israel, for it was the civil law of the land. Likewise, many Christian Jews kept the dietary, festival, and cleanliness laws, because it was ingrained into their culture, and to not keep it offended their conscience (Rom 14:1-14). Paul revealed that even as Christians it was okay to do that in our personal conduct. One could even be circumcised if that was a personal choice (Acts 16:3), but it could not be forced upon others as a doctrinal requirement (Gal 2:3-5).

When a person becomes a Christian, his first allegience is to Christ’s law as supreme. He must still deal with federal, state and local laws, for these do not go away when one becomes a Christian. However, when the king requires that we must offer sacrifice to an idol, that is where we draw the line. Christ’s law trumps civil law when the two conflict.

Some people object to the idea that because we live under grace, that Christ even has a law. However, since Christ is supreme, whenever He says do something, then that is a law, whether He specifically calls it that or not. For example, Paul wrote, “The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Php 4:9). There are other laws as well, such as

Romans 13:9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Clearly, then, even though we live under grace, Christ has a law. If He did not have a law, we could not sin, for “where there is no law, neither is there transgression” (Rom 4:15), and the Bible teaches “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

The Law of Moses continued in active, public observance for many years after Pentecost. However, when Titus and the Roman armies came, the temple worship and the ceremonial aspects of the Law vanished away (Heb 8:13). To read the fact that the public, ceremonial aspects of the Law vanished and to then conclude that the LOM itself ceased to be of legal effect is a mistake, for Jesus promised that “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished” (Mt 5:18).

The public observance of the LOM ceased several times before in Israel’s history, but the public observance of the Law did nothing to abrogate its legal efficacy. For example, the temple worship ceased during the carrying away into Babylonian captivity (Jer 27:21, 28:6, Ps 79:1), but the cessation of temple worship had no effect on the efficacy of the Law to Israel. The temple worship also ceased for 3 1/2 years during the occupation of Israel by the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes (Dan 11:31). The proper temple worship also ceased during the reign of Manasseh, King of Judah (II Ki 21:3-7), so much so that even the book of the Law was lost (II Ki 22:8). In none of these cases, however, did the Law itself cease to be the law that applied to Israel. Therefore, when we note that the public observance of the LOM has vanished, that has no effect on its applicability to Israel, and it has no effect on Christianity, for we are a called out people that is neither Jew nor Gentile (Gal 3:28) that live under a different law.

God now has three concurrent laws operating, but they apply to three different peoples. They do not interfere with one another, even though their statutes are different, any more than the concurrent laws of the nations interfere with one another, because they apply to different people. As Christians, we render allegience to Christ as our King, and obey His laws and receive His grace (I Jn 1:7).

About James Johnson

Bible student for 60 years. Preacher of the gospel for over 40 years. Author of commentary on Revelation, All Power to the Lamb. Married with children. Worked in aerospace and computer engineering for over 40 years.
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