Should Christians Keep the Law Today?
Many people’s perception of Christianity is a religion made up of a list of laws found in its Holy Book, which its people must obey in order to be right with their God – a powerful, distant Being.
This is the most saddening distortion of the truth. However, many people, including those “inside” Christianity, have this thinking. Maybe you are one of them today – either discouraged by the standard of the Biblical law you believe you must keep, or repelled by your idea of Christianity and its seemingly irrelevant religiosity.
I’d encourage you to keep on reading as I try to explain that true Christianity described in the Bible is able to give rest to the weary, grace for the burdened, and answers for those distressed by the pain and suffering in the world. It is every bit as relevant for people living in 2018 and beyond, as it was for those living in the region of current-day Palestine some 2000+ years ago. And yes, there is a place for those laws we find so puzzling.
At the Heart of it, God’s Law speak of His Holiness
The best known Law of God is his 10 commandments which we first read about in Exodus chapter 20. The context of these commands is when Moses, leader of the Israelite nation, ascends the mountain of Sinai. He is trembling with fear as he enters the presence of God who has come and settled over the mountain. The writer of Hebrews paints this frightful picture of Mount Sinai, which is burning with fire, so that a person cannot touch it and live (Hebrews 12:18). Those who heard God’s voice were terrified because of the presence of God, who is “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24).
It might be helpful to compare God’s holy presence to our earth’s Sun. The Sun sustains all forms of life on earth, yet it is some 93 million miles (150 million km) away from us. Move much closer to the Sun, and any living creature is incinerated. We could not dare imagine approaching the Sun and living, it is far too powerful and consuming. That is a bit like the holiness of God. Anything less than 100 percent holy will go up in flames in his presence!
It is into the cloud of God’s presence that God calls Moses (after a process of purification), and gives him the 10 commandments.
Now the 10 commandments were actually the means by which God was establishing a relationship, which the Bible calls a covenant, with the nation of Israel. They were God’s chosen holy people, and his channel of blessing to the world. If they obeyed the commands he set, they would experience the blessing of relationship with Him. If they were unfaithful, they would reap the consequences of their own rebellion. The 10 commands were never intended to make the people of God holy, instead it was a means of grace, to show them how far they fell from God’s standard of perfection and their need for Him. The commands also served as a way of setting the nation of Israel apart from the surrounding nations and showing them what it means to live holy lives.
What the standard of God’s Holiness means for us
Do all people deserve to go to Heaven? If you answer “no”, then by whose standard do we determine who gets to go to heaven and who should go to Hell?
By God’s standard of absolute holiness, no man is left standing, but all fall unbelievably short. His standard is His own perfection. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all! Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory [perfection] of God.” You can be moral and confident in your own righteousness but remain unjustified before God. We cannot remove the stain of our sin before God’s eyes. Our best efforts are like trying to sweep the sand away from the seashore. Our good works are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The true problem is found deeper than our skin, it penetrates to the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Even when our hands are tied, our hearts abound in scheming evil.
Because of this, no person can enter God’s presence in his sinful state and live (Exodus 33:20). We are slaves to sin, and bound by the curse of sin, which is death (Romans 6:16). We are without hope and shut out from the presence of God in the world (Ephesian 2:12). It would be a very hopeless situation if that was how the story ended, but thank God for his indescribable gift!
The Good News
The good news is that “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed… For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:5; 12). God Himself, bore the punishment which was rightfully ours, and mediated the relationship between us and God. He took our sinfulness upon Himself, and gave us His perfect holiness. What a glorious, undeserved exchange!
For those who have placed their faith in the person of Jesus Christ, they are no longer banished from his presence, but His Presence comes and even dwells in them. “Now in Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:13; 8-9 NIV). No, we have no grounds to boast, but we do have the privilege of approaching God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that there we may receive mercy and find grace (Hebrews 4:16). We don’t enter His presence and find grace by our attempts to keep His laws, but on the basis of faith. We personally believe in who He is and what He has done for us.
Should we still keep the Law today?
I think this is the wrong question to be asking, because it presupposes that we can even do such a thing. As we have seen, the law is not the means by which we are made right with God, but rather a standard which exposes how horrifically we fall short of God’s holiness. I never forget an illustrated booklet I was given back in Sunday school, which listed the 10 commandments and then had a picture of a man holding up a mirror to expose his dirty face. That’s what the law does, it’s the mirror to our hearts.
Yet we should also not react by throwing out the Law completely! God tells us to be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). But that holy living springs from the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, who teaches us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbour as ourselves, which Jesus says is the fulfilment of the law (Romans 13:8-10). We keep God’s commands because we are holy, not in order to become holy. All the requirements of the Law were fulfilled in Christ, and that provides the weary with rest, the burdened with grace, and answers for the distressed. Come to Jesus and find rest for your soul.