THE NATURE AND ROLE OF LAW
You find two kinds of law in the Old Testament:
Moral Law not rooted in time. These laws deal with the nature and character of God. They encompass the Ten Commandments and possibly those Laws requiring the death penalty when violated. For example:
“And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the Lord which sanctify you. For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them. If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you. And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
Non-Moral Law dealing with specific issues rooted in time. These are not part of God’s nature. These laws include ceremonial and dietary considerations. Note what God says through His prophet Isaiah:
“Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
I use Isaiah because he discourages the people from keeping these commands because of the hardness of their hearts. It is interesting to note that God does not say this about the Moral Commands; He does not say, “Because of your hard hearts, go ahead, steal, murder, and fornicate.” God wants His Moral Laws obeyed irrespective of our hearts.
Some of the non-moral laws of God are found in the Old Testament but not the New Testament, such as those dealing with sacrifices and feast days. Likewise, some are found in the New Testament that are not found in the Old Testament, such as head covering and the role of women in the church.
Non-moral laws are no less authoritative and absolute than moral laws; God wants all of His laws obeyed. A non-moral law is as binding as a moral law. Furthermore, you cannot predict how God will react to the violation of His law. For example, Moses struck the rock and was unable to enter the Promised Land (a non-moral law), while his brother Aaron made a golden calf (a moral law) and there is no record of God holding him accountable. The only solution to the unpredictability of God’s responds to the breaking of His commands is obedience. A life of obedience is the only safe way to relate to God.
This concludes our study of the nature and role of law. The following is a summary of its suggested importance:
1 – Absolute law is attested by judging. All people everywhere believe in absolute law by virtue of the fact that they judge. No one is capable of not judging. The debate centers around who gets to define the absolutes.
2 – The scientific method was founded on the belief that a sovereign God reigns over and transcends creation, and that He established inviolable laws governing the universe. With the erosion of this belief in the God of Scripture, certainty that such laws exist begins to wane. University professors despair because they see in their students the fruit of secularism: a profound skepticism of anything absolute. They worry that this skepticism undermines the scientific method, for agnosticism questions the foundation upon which the scientific method exists.
3 – Philosophically, certainty can be found in either the subject or object. “I think you are wonderful and therefore you are,” or “You think I am wonderful and therefore I am.” Because there is no objective way of determining this, our certainty is subjective. For example, we say that a certain length equals a meter, but the standard was arbitrarily set in the first place. True objectivity can only come from the sovereign of the universe who controls all and determines the standards.
4 – Morality and legality differ in that legality seeks to define morality. Morality is absolute, but can only be defined by the Supreme Court of the universe to whom all must give account. The force of law is in accountability. Governments form legislatures that sit in session seeking to attain morality by defining legality. Thus, their laws are relative, for the legislature of one country may establish laws contrary to those established by the legislature in another country. The laws of God are absolute and therefore in the Old Testament there was no need for a legislature; God spoke at Sinai and His law is absolute.
5 – Forgiveness is the setting aside of justice. Just people don’t need forgiveness. For this reason people cannot relate to one another on the basis of law. God requires the state to execute justice lest oppression and injustice reign. He requires the individual to forgive.
6 – Grace and forgiveness do not eliminate consequences. You see this when you forgive your child while requiring him to live with the consequences of his decisions. We are incapable of autonomy without the elimination of consequences. For this reason, you will be tempted to conclude that grace and forgiveness in Christ eliminates eternal consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth.
7 – The Law of the Harvest, while a law, must be applied only in the eternal. Although it is true that people often reap what they sow in the temporal, this is not always the case. A law, by definition, can have no exceptions. (This is why we call the breaking of scientific law a miracle.) When you apply the Law of the Harvest to the temporal, like Job’s three friends, you distort and confuse God’s promise of justice.
8 – A purpose of Law is to teach us our depravity and need for Christ. Law must define and ensure justice. Therefore we see that these two purposes of the Law are mutually exclusive. When God imputed the sin of Adam to the human race, He ensured that we would be unjust, while commanding that we be just. In this we see His grace.
9 – Man will not live under the Law of God without opposition; his lust for autonomy is so great that, without fail, he will rebel. Therefore God brings pain into the lives of those He loves to help them sense their dependence and need for Him.
10 – Jesus said that love fulfills the Law; if you properly love you will keep the Law. People want to move from love to law because of rebellion. We test the limits of our liberty with the exactitude of law because we perceive pleasing God out of love keeps us from doing what we want and therefore is not in our interest. Leveraging with law is the last line of defense in a deteriorating relationship.
11 – The commandments of God are objective; their application is subjective. God says, “I will not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.” The command is clear and objective, but how you apply it will be subjective, e.g., when does a boy become a man? Some commands are more objective than others are. You will find it easier to determine what murder looks like than what loving your wife looks like.
12 – You must decide if Scripture requires New Testament believers to keep the Mosaic Law in those cases in which it is neither repeated nor repealed in the New Testament. Weigh this carefully and be consistent, for how you live the Christian life will, in large manner, be influenced by it.
13 – The distinction between moral and non-moral law in Scripture does not warrant you considering one more authoritative and absolute than the other. You are obligated to keep all the commandments in the New Testament, moral or otherwise.
14 – It is impossible to predict God’s response to the violation of His commands. You are most safe by being His obedient servant.
Lord-willing, in the next issue I will begin a study on SIN. Since sin is something common to all of us, there ought to be ample application. Meanwhile let us continue to pray for the quick return of Christ. Then the question of sin will be moot.
 Leviticus 20:8-16
 Isaiah 1:10-17
 Numbers 20:8-12
 Exodus 32:2-6, 21-30