The title of this article is a very common belief among Christians. Like all religious beliefs, however, to have validity, accuracy and benefit, it must be biblically based. With that in mind, let us understand first of all that all assumptions are problematic by nature, and so undertake to look at what the Bible says about The Law. This vital today for the Christian given the church’s modern tendency to portray God a love often in the complete absence of judgment. This is not the God of the Bible.
The first thing we must do is to understand the origin and purpose of the Law, which are interwoven together. The Law was NOT given as the pathway to redemption. “If there had been a law given which could make alive, verily righteousness would have been of the law.” (Gal. 3:21) The Law could not save man because “It was weak through the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3) I can walk the length of 2 X 4. I can probably walk the length of a few of them end to end. Line them up from Chicago to San Francisco, however and it is a sure bet that no human alive could cover that distance without falling off. This is what Paul meant when he said the Law was “weak through the flesh.”
We must understand that the Law was given to accentuate man’s knowledge of sin. If you cross a state line in your car and are driving 60 m.p.h., you won’t know you are speeding until you see the sign that says “Speed Limit 40.” That sign is the Old Testament Law. The sign cannot slow you down. Its only purpose is to show you that you are speeding in violation of the Law. While conscience does play a role in understanding our guilt, the standard that establishes transgression is the Law, otherwise we are justified in saying, “transgressing what?” Heathen societies have for centuries understood the concept that man needs to appease God for transgressions inherent to human nature. This is why nearly all false religions have involved sacrifice.
The accouterments of the Old Testament priesthood such as the tabernacle, the holy place, the holy of holies, the laver, the altar of incense and the role of the priesthood itself were designed to help us understand the weight of the law by bringing us to a better place of understanding regarding the holiness of God. The ceremonial laws were a visible manifestation of the holiness of God. And then, as Paul says, the Law was given to man as the vehicle or “schoolmaster” to lead men to Christ. (Romans 10:4) Paul called the Law the paidagogos, a reference to a trusted and educated slave in a Roman household who was often charged with the academic and moral upbringing of the children.
In the Old Testament, the atonement was made by the priest in the Holy of Holies. Before Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not indwell the believer. Hence, the atonement had to be made where the Holy Spirit dwelt: the Temple. After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit indwelt believers and the “priesthood of the believer” had been established. Logically, each believer then has a Holy of Holies within them and THAT is where the sacrifice had to be brought. That sacrifice was Christ and no priest was needed any longer. HALLELUJAH!
To sum up the purpose of the Old Testament Law, its task was to reveal to man his sinfulness in contrast to the holiness of God. By pointing via the priesthood, sacrifices and the tabernacle to God’s coming sacrifice, Christ, the origin and scope of the Law’s purpose can be clearly understood.
Today the believer understands that he or she is delivered from the Law. But is this in fact completely true? Can we claim that our relationship with the Law ended when the Old Testament ended? In fact, many Christians, seriously misinterpret the statement that the ordinances were nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14) . This means that the believer is dead to the law’s power of CONDEMNATION, as the cross was an instrument of execution. But the Law itself is anything but completely invalidated. God established the seriousness of the capital offenses of the Old Testament, and God has surely not changed His mind about them. God never changes: Mal. 3:6. God therefore surely believes that transgressors of Old testament capital offenses such as murder, adultery, kidnapping, and rape deserve the death penalty! That can never change for God, or He would not be God. What does change is that God as a righteous but merciful judge steps out from behind the divine bench of judgment, takes off his judicial robe, looks at the sinner and sees His Son Jesus Christ when the sinner claims Christ’s death as his own substitutionary payment for sin. God never says to the sinner, “Your sin doesn’t matter.” He says, “My Son has made the payment for you. You are forgiven because the price has been paid. “ PRAISE GOD!
That being said, are we to believe that the Old Testament Law does not matter today? Many well-meaning Christians today would tell you just that, that it does not matter: “That’s Old Testament,” as a friend of my wife’s often expresses. We clearly see, however, that the Bible does not ever dismiss the Law. The Scriptures do tell us that in the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, the believer is delivered from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13) We could say delivered from the penalty of the Law, (Rom. 7:4). This refers both to the moral and ceremonial Law (II Co. 3:7 -11). This is the “yoke of bondage” whose penalty the believer avoids.
So the believer is made free from the law, but never do we find the notion that the Law is incapable of condemning the unbeliever. This is a tremendously important concept and a vital one to grasp. The great line of demarcation between unbeliever and believer is seen in Romans 8:1. All of Romans chapter seven describes the UNBELIEVER (a commonly misunderstood fact), and in the first verse of Romans 8:1, the transition is made to the believer: “There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION” to the believer, NOT the unbeliever! He is still guilty before God, and it remains the province and purpose of the Law to make the indictment!
Now let us have a look at the concept of sin, for sin and the Law are closely linked. Like so many doctrines of the Bible, the overwhelming majority of Christians have understood sin only in the very broadest, if not simplistic terms. Despite the phenomenal nuances of the Koine Greek language that express these truths so beautifully, God has thankfully not made this doctrine a complicated one to understand, and so the popular definitions serve their purpose. Children know what sin is.
That being said, here are eight Greek words used in the New Testament that will help us to build for ourselves a more comprehensive definition of sin and to see it more clearly from God’s perspective:
Hamartia: Missing the mark.
Hamartema: Crossing a boundary
Parabasis: Disobedience to a voice
Parakoe: Falling where one should have stood.
Paraptoma: Ignorance of what one should have known.
Agnoema: Diminishing what should have been rendered more fully.
Hettema: Failure to observe a law.
Paranomia: Discord in the harmonies of the universe.
Here are a few other pertinent facts regarding the biblical doctrine of sin:
– There is also the sin of omission related in James 4:17.
– Sin is not just in the act, but in the inner condition from which it derives (Lev. 4:14, 20, 31, 5:5,6) That is why Jesus condemned the thought as harshly as the act. The sincere yet sinful Christian understands that corrupt fruit can only come from a corrupt tree (Matt. 7:17,18) and seeks to fix what was wrong on the inside first and foremost.
– Sin is present in every Christian. Continual vigilance is a key component of the victorious Christian life: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves .” I John 1:8
One of the major elements missing almost completely today from the church dynamic in its treatment of sin is the principle of deterrence. This is strange to me, as deterrence is plainly illustrated and commanded in Scripture throughout. We find that under the Law of Moses, the punishment for the false accuser was commanded to be on the same level of severity as the charged crime required. The Bible plainly tells us of one very important purpose with respect to our societal responsibility in carrying out the full measure of the punishment: “And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:20) Solomon said, “Smite a scorner and the simple shall beware.” (Prov. 19:20). Should our mercy then exceed God’s? Should our political interest in not embarrassing a man or the church allow us to diminish Moses & Solomon’s principles of deterrence? “Thine eye shall not pity him,” God said. In the words of Matthew Henry, “The benefit will accrue to the public.”
That is not the way of the church today, however. Today sexual sin is rampant in the church. I once considered my home church the best church I had ever known. Today, my home church, Prospect Avenue Baptist Church of Santee, California has experienced several dozen sexual scandals. One completely and permanently closed the church’s Christian school. Although they have not been totally ignored, they have essentially been swept under the rug in the interest of “sparing the families.” This lack of deterrence has done nothing but to generate momentum until these sins became chronic in the church, and in the families of church leaders. One man did the right thing before God and exposed an adulterer in the church, a former minister. He was excommunicated for that and barred from the church he founded and sacrificed for for nearly four decades. That man is Pastor Dorman Owens, to whom I am greatly indebted for many things, including my improved understanding of the Law.
Let us Conclude
If God thought adultery deserved the death penalty in the Old Testament, then he cannot have changed his mind today. That doesn’t mean we will be drawing straws for the firing squad in church this Sunday, but it absolutely means that it is imperative today for every Christian to determine to work, study and pray to see all sin as God sees it. Sadly, there is no greater failure in the church today. Today the church only “manages” sins like adultery and fornication. Billy Sunday said, “You can’t love the flowers unless you hate the weeds.” It is time for Christians to do a better job of combining mercy and truth. There is too often way too much of one and way too little of each other. These two have made peace in Christ; in fact, that is where they “have kissed each other.” Imbalance on one side of the scale is as bad as on the other. We need to always remind each that Paul’s understanding of the Law that it can help us immeasurable to understand the relevance of God’s Law today:
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Romans 7: 22
“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” Romans 3:31