The Purpose of the Law


Aren’t laws supposed to make people live by justice and fairness –so that good prevails over evil? That’s what we’ve been taught and what we mostly wish was true. But can following the Bible’s laws really make God pleased with us?

God’s Mercy or Our Justice

The previous article explained that laws (even those in the Bible) describe things –and how those things work. This is first evident in the account of the Garden of Eden. The two trees in its middle depict the two laws –the only two laws– by which God evaluates us. There’s the tree of life –it corresponds to the law of the Spirit of life and it’s demonstrated by Jesus’ cross. And there’s the tree of death –it corresponds to the law of sin and death and it’s demonstrated by displacing God as the judge of good and evil (Romans 8:1-2).

Those two laws identify two, non-overlapping spiritual kingdoms (or realms). We choose between them for our eternal residence by who we believe in –who we put our faith in –who we trust.

  • Spiritual death describes being independent and separated from God. It’s where we all began. Remaining in that kingdom is the result of trusting ourselves –believing that our goodness is sufficient to condemn the guilty and to justify our innocence. (Much like Job’s first 41 chapters.)
  • Spiritual life describes being the bride of Christ –satisfied and content in His loving presence. Entering His kingdom is the result of trusting God –realizing our separation and accepting His merciful gift of life. (Like Job did in chapter 42.)

Saying “pardon me” or “sorry” or “excuse me” is polite, but its casual use reveals our view of justice. We effortlessly ask for mercy when we offend others –and yet we demand punishment for those who offend us.

The Amplified Bible clarifies what it means to believe by including: “trust in, rely upon, cling to.” For what it’s worth, try substituting one of those phrases when contemplating your belief –such as: “I cling to Jesus for every part of my life” or “I trust in Jesus for everything” or “He is the only One I can wholly rely upon.”

By the way, being the judge over what’s good and what’s evil was reserved for God. Yet Eve ate its fruit and exposed her envy. She wanted His position of judge. We were all like her. It’s proved out by our lingering judgmental ways. As citizens of the kingdom of death, we were consumed by the lust for justice. But now we can choose to put judging back into His capable hands and trust Him to mercifully work everything out for our good (from Romans chapter eight).

The Old Covenant’s Law

Like the parables, the deeper meaning of the Law is hidden. On the surface it seems to describe what we must do to please God –and what the penalty is for our failure. But the Law also uses shadows (pictures within the words) to tell us about Jesus’ life, His death for our rebellious ways and His resurrection to give us new life with Him.

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)

It began with God’s three-part promise to Abraham. 1) He would have many offspring whose increase would take place during 400 years of slavery. 2) They would live in a land of their own. And 3) they would be a blessing to others.

After their time in slavery was over, He selected Moses to lead His chosen people. They were camped at the foot of Mount Sinai when God made His covenant with them –and only with them. “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” (from Exodus 19:3-8).

That covenant is recorded in Exodus chapters 19 through 23. It begins with the Ten Commandments and continues with rules about the fair treatment of slaves, personal property and injury, the Sabbath rest for the people and for the land, the annual feasts and many others. It concludes with His unconditional insistence for them to enter and conquer the land.

Pictures of Jesus

According to what’s stated, that covenant’s purpose was to establish the Israelites as God’s kingdom of priests to the world. Their ministry was specified in great detail. The nation, as a whole, would be a blessing to the world by showing how to recognize Jesus when He came, what His life, death and resurrection accomplished, what He is doing now and what His role is for the future.

God chose the Israelites to be priests to the world. The Law was their script for life –as though actors in a drama– to identify Jesus as mankind’s one and only Savior.

The traditions of their covenant certified that Jesus was the Messiah by the life He lived. John the Baptist introduced Him to the people in Jerusalem as His first public Passover was nearing. That’s when John said “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (It’s in John 1:29-34.)

Just a few days later He and His mother were at the wedding celebration in Cana. It was there that she asked Him to resolve the shortage of wine –and He responded by saying that it wasn’t yet His time. He was referring to His death –correlating pouring wine for this celebration to pouring out His own blood in celebration of our wedding to Him.

There were two parts to that first miracle. We’re familiar with the water used for ceremonial cleansing being transformed into wine. But the other part is equally important –those six earthly jars hint about the need for a seventh –God completes His work with seven. The seventh one would be His earthly jar –His body. The water that flowed from it would cleanse us from all unrighteousness –and then His blood would flow to give us new, eternal life.

Three (or so) years later –as His last Passover was approaching– He rode a donkey’s colt into the people’s presence on the day that was prescribed for every family to put their Passover lamb on display. (It’s referred to the Triumphal Entry, we celebrate it as Palm Sunday.) It was to prove that the lambs –particularly God’s Lamb– were perfect, without defect …innocent. He was killed three days later after Pilate declared His innocence –on the same day and time when all of those other perfect lambs were killed.

At the Passover meal every year, they were to recount the ten plagues put on the Egyptians. The first plague turned the river flowing with water into a river flowing with blood. At the cross, He was pierced with a spear. And like that river, water flowed from His body –it was followed by His blood.

The last of the ten plagues was the death of all first-born males –except for those in dwellings where a lamb’s blood was on the doorway. Israel celebrated the Passover as a memorial of the blood that protected them from the Death Angel. Jesus was God’s first-born –His own Lamb– whose blood was shed for us to put on the door to our hearts. It’s a reminder that when God gives us eternal life, it’s permanent. It can never be given back, or lost, or taken away –not even by an angel.

As part of that Passover, the people were to rid their dwellings of leaven. It represents emptying their hearts of all superficial goodness –self-righteousness. They were to eat only unleavened bread –of which Jesus said to His disciples “This is My body which must be broken for you.” Shortly thereafter God filled those believers’ hearts with His Holy Spirit –making them truly righteous. These harvest-events are still entries on their calendar. Firstfruits and Pentecost commemorate when He was raised and when the Spirit came to raise us to eternal life.

Their covenant –through its extensive rules– showed that everyone was separated from God. They were all guilty, or corrupted, or defiled, or unclean in some way. It might have been by coming in contact with something dead, developing a disease, mistreating a neighbor, touching blood (even in menstruation and childbirth). No one was innocent according to their Law.

That’s what the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was about. It’s when everyone’s guilt was transferred to a substitute whose blood was shed in their place. The high priest was the mediator (between man and God) who would carry its blood as a ransom payment. That entire scene predicted that the ultimate High Priest –Jesus– would present His own blood to His Father as the only acceptable payment for the guilt of our flesh (our sin-nature).

Of course the Old Covenant doesn’t plainly name Jesus as God’s Savior for all. But His Hebrew name “Joshua” does. It’s often pronounced Yeshua and it means “Jehovah’s salvation.” That meaning is laid out in the form of a prophetic preview. Remember, the last requirement of their covenant –the paramount requirement– was to enter and conquer the Land. Moses took the people up to the River Jordan, but he couldn’t take them across and go in. It was Joshua who led them out of death in the desert and into life in the Promised Land. The implication is that following the Law can not get anyone into the kingdom –they must enter by faith following the Savior.

We Aren’t Him

The Old Covenant was a ministry of pictures that described Jesus –He was the only One who could save us. It also proved that no one else was Him.

This last part –proving that we aren’t Him– was the reason for the Ten Commandments. On the way to Mount Sinai the people had become unbearably judgmental –constantly arguing with each other. Every single day Moses heard and ruled on their disputes. Members from every family were lined up in front of him with their complaints.

His father-in-law, Jethro, suggested a solution (and God agreed). First, Moses was to set up a hierarchy of judges to hear their cases –he would only decide the most difficult ones. Second, Moses was to get some rules from God and present them to the people so they would know what was acceptable to Him. The Ten Commandments showed that none of them was qualified to judge another as good or evil –because none of them was good. The commandments were “so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (from Romans 3:19-20).

The Law perfectly describes Jesus –it’s His biography. The Law also shows that we aren’t Him.

The New Covenant’s Law

Jesus said that He is the One that the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms described (Luke 24:44). The transition from the Old Covenant to the New took place when He died on the cross (Hebrews 9:15-17).

Except for a few neighboring passages, that division in the Bible (between covenants) is after the gospels and before the book of Acts. (It’s not at the page between Malachi and Matthew that says “New Testament.”) The significance is that the gospels describe how Jesus lived out His life under the Old Covenant. That should make sense. After all, their ministry was to predict His arrival and His accomplishments.

Their covenant was conditional. “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” (from Exodus 19:3-8). Notice the first word, “If…”

Jesus’ death finished, completed, fulfilled the Old. Paul was explaining the transition when he said “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (from Galatians 3:22-26).

Christ’s Ambassadors

The New Covenant is God’s agreement with us who are born of the Spirit. We are ambassadors to the world telling them that Jesus is the way into the kingdom of God –the kingdom of heaven.

The law that describes this New Covenant looks beyond their pictures –to the One who was pictured by the Old. He died once for all and by that death He removed all of the barriers between man and God. The only remaining requirement is to accept His offer of eternal life with Him. (It’s carefully laid out in “Understanding the Book of Hebrews.”)

And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them After those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them,” He then says, “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:15-18)

God doesn’t remember our sins and lawless acts. He did –it was at the cross. He will never remember them again. That’s a quote from the Old Testament about what would happen after the Messiah came (Jeremiah 31:34).

Our Reconciliation

The message that we ambassadors are to always have ready is found in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. It says that God isn’t counting men’s sins against them. He took our sin so that we might become righteous in Him. Furthermore, we’re to let everyone know that God has reconciled us all to Himself. In response, we’re to reconcile ourselves to Him –that’s to quit trying to fix what He has made perfect.

You’ve probably heard somewhere that the same 613 rules (laws, statutes, etc.) of the Old Testament are repeated in the New Testament so we’re to still follow them. Those laws have two purposes. (I hope you’re not getting tired of hearing this because it’s truly essential.)

They describe Jesus as God –the One who gives life; and they tell us that we aren’t God –we desperately need that life.