God and Law
“Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).
God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt to Sinai to make a covenant with them, telling them they needed to do one basic thing: obey Him. Through Moses, God would proceed to give them His law, and this would help define the people from then on. Yet the law (Torah) was more than a set of rules. It contained their instructions for life and their ground for both how to approach God and others.
What is God’s relationship to law? We are tempted to separate God from law, even asking at times whether God unreasonably makes laws on a whim or if law itself is above God, something to which God Himself is amenable. Both ideas miss the point. God is neither unreasonable nor amenable to anything higher than Himself. If God is amenable to a law higher than Himself, then He couldn’t be God. As Hannah recognized in her prayer, “For the Lord is a God of knowledge, and with Him actions are weighed” (1 Sam. 2:3). Further, God, as the ground and source of all reason, will not be erratic in making laws, and our lack of understanding is no reason to charge God with being irrational. As the God of all wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, His reason will always be above our finite, ignorant judgments. “Will the faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Let him who reproves God answer it” (Job 40:2).
The Biblical concept is that God’s law is a reflection and extension of the holy character and glory of God. Consider the nature of the Ten Commandments. The first four directly bear upon man’s relationship to God, while the last six directly bear upon man’s relationship to others. Yet, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His response did not include any of the ten (Matt. 22:36-40). Rather, the greatest commandment was to love God with all the heart, soul, strength, and mind (Deut. 6:4-9). The second was to love neighbor as self. Jesus then said, “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Jesus’ reply shows that God’s commandments are not about capricious rules, but are ultimately about loving God and others. By paying attention to God’s law, we learn to love God, draw near to Him, and become more like Him. This is one reason why God spelled out the need to be holy. Upon giving the instructions to the priests, He said, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44; cf. 1 Pet. 1:13-16). It’s not about making a checklist or earning salvation, for only by God’s grace will forgiveness be realized (Eph. 2:8-9). However, it is about learning to respect and love the Almighty God of heaven and earth who has offered us the grace of His revealed will. We will either want to do His will or reject Him for our own will. Neutrality is not an option.
Another way to look at this is by considering the nature of sin. Sin is a transgression of law (1 John 3:4). If we think that sin is just a violation of a few unreasonable rules (that we think we can break because we don’t see them as very important), then, again, we have missed the point. Contrary to popular opinion, rules aren’t made to be broken. Paul wrote that all have sinned and “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). This should put the matter in perspective. How is sin both a transgression of law and a falling short of God’s glory? Because God’s law is a revelation of God’s glory. That connection between law and God’s glory must not be missed. When we violate God’s law, we violate the nature and character of the One who gave it. Because we’ve sinned, we need the grace of the One against Whom we have sinned.
Jesus was God incarnate. As the logos (the Word), Jesus revealed the character of God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He represents God’s law in the greatest way, as He is the “radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus is God’s perfect communication to His creation. The “only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).
When we think of God’s law, then, we ought to think of God’s holy character and glory. Since His law is a manifestation of His will, then respecting God’s law and respecting God Himself cannot be separated. God’s authority fills His law. God’s glory underlies it all. Those interested in respecting God will see obedience to Him as a privilege to enjoy, not a drudgery to endure. As Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).