We’ve looked at the law from many angles this quarter, especially as it relates to Christ. And as we’ve discovered, you can’t separate the two. Christ and His law are a package deal.
Back in Moses’ day when the law was spelled out in God’s own handwriting, they were given many symbols that pointed them to the Promised Seed, the Messiah. And Christ seems to tell us that obedience through the blood of the Lamb is still a requirement of His followers. (The Sermon on the Mount verified and clarified the law very forcefully.)
Some may still wonder though if we haven’t now entered an era of faith and faith alone, nullifying or at least weakening the Ten Commandment Law. This week we will call some eyewitnesses to the stand, who were there right after Jesus’ death and resurrection. These men, called apostles, would certainly have been aware of any change in God’s law and whether it should be kept at all.
Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude, all writers of New Testament books, will share with us their views of the law.
Key Text: “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” Romans 7:12 NKJV
There has always been confusion about the function of God’s law. (Satan delights in this, by the way.) But we must ask ourselves if these misunderstandings mean that the law itself is bad. The apostles hurried to answer this dilemma quite often, as we’ll see in our study of their letters to the early Christian church.
Sunday: Paul and the Law
Paul wrote about half of the New Testament books, but nearly all his teachings are found elsewhere in Scripture, giving him great credibility as a Bible writer. He did say some things about law and grace that theologians have grappled with over the centuries, however. And we have already unraveled many of these passages in Romans in the past few weeks.
Most of our trouble comes when we take his verses out of context. Here are some examples that will highlight the need to study the Scriptures “here a little, there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, 13), and not take verses in isolation.
- Romans 3:28 “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” KJV
- Romans 3:31 “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” KJV
- Romans 6:14 “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” KJV
- Romans 6: 15 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” KJV
- Galatians 3:24 “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” KJV
- Galatians 3:21 “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” KJV
Paul states quite plainly in Romans 7:7-12 (well, as plainly as Paul is able to express himself) that their problem was not with the law, but with how they were using the law. The purpose of the law is to point out sin, not to save us from it. He in no way undermines the law, as verse 12 testifies (see key text above).
Discussion Questions: How does the law and grace argument relate to justification and sanctification? (Justification as being declared righteous and sanctification as being made righteous. Refer again to Galatians 3:24 above.)
How does our faith “establish the law” as stated in Romans 3:31?
Monday: Peter and the Law
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, was known for his rash behavior, impulsive declarations, and just in-your-face outspoken language. It’s no wonder that he was considered the main spokesman on the day of Pentecost, when the new church was forming and getting ready to win the world. And certainly he would not hesitate to let his opinion on the law be known.
Several years after the ascension of Jesus though, Peter received a vision of a sheet of clean and unclean animals and was told to eat them. (Peter himself discovered the meaning of his dream as his need to welcome Gentiles into the fold and not consider any man unclean. Read ALL of Acts 10 for the full story.)
Let’s zoom in on one verse in this passage though that might reveal something of Peter’s feeling about the keeping the law. Acts 10:14 says, “But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.” KJV
Obviously, Peter and probably many early Christians identified with their Jewish roots enough to still observe even the dietary laws that Moses delivered to them. There is no reason to believe that they didn’t also observe God’s Ten Commandments–as revered and central as the commandments were to the Jewish nation.
Discussion Question: Exodus 19:6 speaks of Moses’ people as “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” Their task was to teach, preach, and reach others, sharing God’s law of love with them. See Exodus 19:5 to see what made them “peculiar”.
Likewise, Peter refers to the early Christians as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” I Peter 2:9 KJV How does this support the evidence that law and grace were both present in Moses’ time and when Peter served as an apostle for the early church? What can you deduce about Peter’s feeling about the law from his statement?
Tuesday: John and the Law
John, also a close disciple of Jesus, seemed to have a special relationship with Him. He’s referred to as “John the Beloved” several times in the gospels. Surely someone this close to Jesus’ heart would know if God’s law had been set aside, or in any way changed or weakened.
John quotes Jesus as saying:
- John 15: 10 “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” KJV
- John 15: 8 “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” KJV
And here’s how John himself felt about keeping the commandments after the resurrection:
- I John 2:3-6 “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” KJV
Discussion Questions: According to II John 6 what has always been the essence of the law? [love]
Can a person claim to be keeping the law without having loving relationships with God and other people? Why is loving people important in keeping the law? What if you’re a hermit, with no human contact?
How does obeying out of love differ from how you feel when you obey without love?
Wednesday: James and the Law
Although Jesus’ brother James may have at first been skeptical of Jesus being the Messiah (John 7:5), he eventually became an apostle in the early church (Galatians 1:19). We should find him a reliable source for the relationship of the law and grace in New Testament times.
Although we only have five chapters in the book of James to determine his opinion on grace and the works of the law, we find he has given ample coverage to this aspect of discipleship.
Chapter 2 is central to our study this week, but you will find many verses in James that point to love and works as both needed for our salvation.
- “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” James 1:12 KJV
- “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” James 1:22 KJV
- “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10 KJV
- “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James 2:17 KJV
- “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19 KJV
- “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James 2:26 KJV
- “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” James 4:17 KJV
Discussion Question: Paul said in Ephesians 2:8, 9 that we are saved by faith alone, and not with works. James, on the other hand, stated in James 2:26that faith, without works, is dead. How do you account for this apparent inconsistency? What concepts are both authors trying to get across? [See also Romans 13:9 and James 2:8 and see that they both agreed on love as being at the heart of the law.]
Thursday: Jude and the Law
Jude, or Judas, was also one of Jesus’ four brothers (Matthew 13:55). His short, one-chapter epistle, found right before Revelation in the New Testament, is an appeal to be faithful to God, through our deeds and our words, especially in the last days.
Verse 4 warns us to beware of ungodly men creeping into the church. They will turn the grace of God into “lasciviousness” or “licentiousness”, which just means a license for immorality.
We have seen the world slip further and further down the road to immorality, even in one generation. Could this have come about partly because theologians have “watered down” God’s law? You can hold up the grace of God so high that it overshadows and even covers up the law of God. And when people forget the law, they won’t know what sin is. The result is more immorality.
Jude describes the sad state of affairs like this:
“”How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” Jude 18 and 19
There seems no doubt that Jude was eager to speak up for the law and not sinning, all the while pointing out the mercy and love of God as a means of keeping the law and staying away from sin.
“But ye, beloved, building up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Jude 20 and 21
Discussion Question: Most of Christendom agrees with nine of the ten commandments of God. Why do you think there’s so much confusion about the fourth commandment that reminds us to keep the Sabbath?
Why has there been a drop in Sundaykeeping in the past century or so? Stores and businesses used to close on that day, but that practice has all but stopped in most communities. Has there also been a more lenient attitude about keeping the seventh-day Sabbath?
How does Sabbathkeeping remain a Spirit-filled activity for mankind and not a legalistic duty?
The apostles we are most familiar with in New Testament times (Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude) reveal nothing about the law being changed or void. The new covenant simply impressed more forcefully to us that it is to be kept out of love, with the assistance of the grace and mercy of God, shown to us at Calvary. The law doesn’t save us, they were all quick to point out; but it does serve the function of revealing our sin and drawing us to the Savior.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.” Jude 24 KJV
- Meditate fully on Jude 24 this week.
- Remember a song, if you’ve heard of it: “He’s able, He’s able, I know He is able. I know my Lord is able to carry me through.”
- Make a list of what God has been able to do for you.