Under the Law and Keeping the Law

Understanding how the Mosaic Law relates to the follower of Christ has elicited all sorts of responses over the years. More recently we have Tullian Tchividjian, who espouses a very Lutheran view of the Law. He reduces the majority of the Scriptures into “imperative” and “indicative.” Imperative being the command to people concerning what they must do: i.e. law; contrasted with the indicative, indicating what has been done by God (in Christ) for you; i.e. the gospel.

In the above schematic, the law was God’s command to us, telling us what we must do. The primary purpose (at least retrospectively) was to lead us to see our own needs and deficiencies. Then, God’s second word was the gospel. The news that all of God’s commands have been met by the Messiah of Israel.

Whatever value this scheme may have in terms of illustration, it is certainly not what Paul meant, or the rest of Scripture for that matter. Other spin offs of this view vary considerably, but are related. They include: 1. The view that God’s expectations for us to behave a certain way has been relativized by Jesus: “all you need to do is believe in Jesus” they say, “Jesus did the rest.” 2. The view that obedience is “automatic” when you believe the right things. 3. The view that the law was God’s first way of salvation and it didn’t work out. So God scrapped it and introduced the gospel. 4. The view that the Law was perfect, but mankind wasn’t, so it wasn’t a good match up. 

All of these views I think miss the mark; some worse than others. Fundamentally all of them misunderstand the law. These misunderstandings work themselves out in all sorts of ways. Beginning with a consideration of the law, I would like to examine some key correctives to some of these views.

Let us start with the fact that the Law contains provisions for sins. By that I mean, that the law does not demand sinless perfection as many mistake it to. The law makes all sorts of provisions for when an individual sins, or the nation of Israel as a whole. The Law was therefore full of Grace, full of God’s forgiveness offered mercifully to his covenant people. When we think of sacrificing a goat, we need to remember that God is mercifully removing the guilt of the person performing the sacrifice. The sacrifice of the animal isn’t a “work.” The sacrifice of the animal was a form of good news, of grace, of God’s provision of a means by which he would deal with sin without punishing the perpetrator with the full consequences of the sin.

This leads to the next point. People like David repeat, throughout the psalms, that he is a righteous and blameless man. Some find this very uncomfortable. How can David claim these things?  He has sinned a plenty. Well, when he sinned, he embraced God’s gracious provision of sacrificial means of propitiation; this provision was by means of the Mosaic Law. He therefore was a perfect man. When he sinned, he confessed his sin, repented, and sought to follow God.

This is one helpful tip that will help correct misunderstood positions regarding the law. There are several others that we will cover. For now, let us bullet a few points that we will expound on later.

  • the law does have a negative role to play within Israel.
  • Israel is called to be the means through which salvation would come to the world; this will not happen without the law
  • many times, disobedience is linked to unbelief in the Scriptures, so believing God properly, does lead to obedience, but certainly not “automatically,” sweat and human effort are still necessary
  • Being a disciple of Christ is a requirement to enter the new heavens and earth; this is not merely “believing.”
  • The law was never the means of Salvation. Abraham was “saved” by believing God 430 years before the law was given. The Law was given as a supplement to that; not to replace it.