What is the Law For?

Growing up in the church, I didn’t always realize why preachers spent so much time on things like the law, Abraham, and other characters from the “old book.”  Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 that the law was our “schoolmaster” to bring us to Christ.  A schoolmaster, teacher, professor, etc. is someone who is charged with bringing ignorant minds up to speed and knowledgeable about a single subject or multitude of them.  One of the bishop/elder qualifications is to be “apt to teach.”  A teaching function can employ a multitude of tools to aid the learning process.  The law given to Moses from Sinai and the succeeding days thereafter brought in a multitude of tools to teach us with a singular goal in mind: bring us to Christ.

Morality: God established a moral universe, and even thousands of years before God gave the law to Moses, He still charged and judged men for being immoral.  He marked Cain for the rest of his days due to his unseemly murder of his brother Abel.  He destroyed a whole generation with a flood in Noah’s day because man’s heart was only wickedness continually.  However, when God gave the moral code to Moses – 10 commandments – what this did was shine a spotlight on the immorality of man’s nature and practice.  Paul said the law made sin “exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:13) No, the law didn’t make sin any worse, but the light it shone showed us that sin is worse than we could imagine.

Inability: Some have posited that the law had problems, and in a sense I agree with that thought.  However, the problem with the law was not in the law itself.  Given by God, it is spotless, but the problem is that something spotless demands perfection.  The fault in the law was not with that law but with us. (Hebrews 8:8) By shining the light on the morality that God’s character demands and requires, it also shows us the inability we have in keeping it.  Even if we could be determined from this point forward to go forth in perfection, it doesn’t nullify the littered pasts we all have.  There was no law given that could have given righteousness, but every moral code God gave to man: Adam, Noah, Moses, and eventually His Son Jesus Christ points out in point after point that we are wholly unable to do what it requires.

Ceremony: Another major principle of the law was the ceremony it instituted.  Whether the daily washings and cleansings, yearly sacrifices, feasts, or ordinances, the ceremony of the law was both detailed and full.  For every season of the year and season of life, there was ceremony to be performed.  For every man, woman, and child there were specific commands to perform.  For the sick and the well, there were ceremonies to keep.  I have often said when someone talks about how hard the law can be to read, “If you think reading it is hard, how’d you like to keep it?”  Just as the moral code demanded perfection, the details of the ceremony were expected to be kept just as the Lord gave them.  While these ceremonies didn’t cleanse one sin or purify one soul before God, they did highlight purification, cleansed the conscience, and encouraged the people’s fellowship with God. (Hebrews 9:13-14, 10:1-4)

Shadow: As the verses in Hebrews 10:1-4 show, the law was a shadow of good and better things to come.  Just as a natural shadow points to a real entity, so the law pointed to something yet to come in the future.  So every ceremony, moral code, and sacrifice not only showed people how truly wretched we are, but it also showed something above all those things.  Moses even foretold of Him by calling Him a prophet that the people would hearken to. (Deuteronomy 18:15) Just as a shadow has the form of the real thing but lacks the detail, so the law had the general form of Him who was to come but without the replete fullness, rich detail, and august majesty that He possesses.

These areas of thought all were intended to lead us to Christ.  Not in a saving way, but in a knowledge way.  When the Jews saw the high priest go behind the veil (Leviticus 16), the reality is that Jesus went behind the veil when He ascended up on high out of their/our sight.  Just as the ceremony brought a cleansing of the conscience, so the sacrifice of Christ should cleanse us today in our walk.  All those ceremonies made them feel better about their fellowship with God.  Today, we have something so much better in that the ceremonies that Christ has left – baptism, communion, feet washing, regular worship – are not only simple and concise but show us something better than the law.  The law showed what would be and would come.  Ceremony today shows us what has been and did come.

Most importantly in Christ though is the hope that His life, work, and sacrifice brings.  There was no hope in the law outside of what it pointed to.  Hope in the law itself is vain because it highlights our inability.  Hope in Christ is great and powerful because it highlights His perfection, grace, and mercy.  What the law did in bringing us to Christ was not only delivering generation after generation forward in a press and looking unto the coming Messiah, but it also brought people to Christ in a form of knowledge.  Not only in what He would do but in also what He would overcome.  When Christ came and fulfilled – rather than destroyed – all the law and the prophets, we can take solace in knowledge that everything God demanded, He fully and totally executed.  Every now and then, I still hear the sentiment expressed, “Oh if I could have lived in _______ day and seen those things…” Foolishly, I have expressed the same myself at times, but I’m glad to live in the time where the schoolmaster is no longer needed as Christ has come and done, we can look back and rejoice, look forward with hope, and know that He will come again to manifest the full execution of His performance of morality, ability, and ceremony to need no more shadows ever again in the light of the eternal day.

In Hope,

Bro Philip

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