A Study of Law
The celebrated authority on jurisprudence John Austin defined law as: "A law, in the most general and comprehensive acceptation in which the term, in its literal meaning, is employed, may be said to be a rule laid down for the guidance of an intelligent being, by an intelligent being having power over him" (International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. 3, pg. 1844). Under this comprehensive statement, Austin classifies laws set by God to his human creatures, and laws set by man to men.
Man has laws for the avoidance of social chaos. The New Testament acknowledges Roman law and Greek law (Acts 22: 25, I Cor. 6: 1). God is said to have "ordained" civil law (Rom. 13: 1). Man is taught by God to obey civil law (Rom. 13: 2, see exception, Acts 5: 29). God also has his law, as such. Genesis 2: 15, 17, 18 contain God's first law given to man (notice the positive and negative features, such features are present in every system of law God has given man). Patriarchy was mostly a system of oral law (Gen. 3 - Ex. 20). The Law of Moses was God's first written law to man (Ex. 20: 3-17, Deut. 5: 22). The New Testament of Jesus (the consummate law of God) is God's law for mankind in this final age (Acts 2 - Judgment). It was prophesied that " out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2: 3). This was fulfilled in Acts 2, AD 30. Hence, the law of Christ, the perfect law of liberty (Gal. 6: 2, Jas. 1: 25, more later).
There is one lawgiver. All recognized law ultimately emanates from one lawgiver, God (Jas. 4: 12, cp. Isa. 33: 22). Compared to the august and ultimate lawgiver, man is miniscule and insignificant (Jas. 4: 12). God's law is perfect and alteration is forbidden, it matters not the particular period or age (Deut. 4: 2, Rev. 22: 18, 19, 2 Jn. 9-11).
Man must keep God's law. This has always been the case regardless of the particular time period, including the present age (Gen. 2: 15-17, Ex. 16: 28, 2 Tim. 2: 5). An exemplary attitude toward God's law is seen in the Psalms. "I delight to do thy will, O my God," David exclaims, "yea, thy law is within my heart" (Ps. 40: 8, see also 119: 42-44, 174). Those who refuse God's law are "workers of iniquity" (Matt. 7: 21-23, anomian, lawlessness or without law, I Tim. 1: 9, 2 Tim. 2: 19).
A matter can be lawful but incorrectly perceived as unlawful. Law must be correctly applied and used lawfully (I Tim. 1: 8). Some believed Jesus had sinned (Matt. 12: 1 ff.) They charged him with breaking the sabbath law (Ex. 20: 8, Ibid.). They were using the right law (Law of Moses, Gal. 4: 4), but they were misapplying it. The sabbath law did not forbid the acts of Matthew 12. Sometimes God's law can be misapplied in the manner seen in Colossians 2: 16. The Law of Moses has been superceded by the law of Christ; hence, Paul is saying do not permit one to judge or condemn you by this taken out of the way law (vs. 14 ).
We must not use man's law to determine God's law. By "man's law" we mean civil law and by "God's law" we allude to God's spiritual law found in the Bible. Civil law allows man to basically believe and worship any way he chooses. Man takes this truth and then applies it spiritually: "It does not matter what you believe or how you worship." Wrong (Jn. 4: 24)! The Corinthians were rebuked because they were appealing to civil law in an attempt to determine (or instead of) spiritual law (I Cor. 6: 1 ff.).
There are some matters, which are lawful but are not edifying. There can be situations and circumstances which can render what is lawful (according to God's spiritual standard) but not binding to become inexpedient and "edify not" (I Cor. 10: 23). In this general vein, there are matters which are legal (civil law), but are wrong spiritually (gambling, prostitution, etc.).
God's perfect law of liberty. It seems man is forever going to one extreme or another. Some contend there is no law today because we are under a system of grace and liberty. They expend their energies attempting to play down law (see Greg Bean's statements in "Quotations," accessed from home page). Of course, if there is no law today, there can be no sin because sin is lack of conformity to law (I Jn. 3: 4). Hence, universal salvation (Matt. 7: 13, 14). Jesus would also have died in vain (I Jn. 1: 7-10).
Others embrace the opposite extreme, the extreme of legalism. I use legalism in the sense of mechanical and spiritless law keeping for the purpose of being saved by meritorious deeds (see Lk. 18: 9-14, Rom. 11: 6). The truth without either extreme is found in James 1: 25: " the perfect law of liberty ." Christ's system is unique in that it involves perfect law and liberty. Christianity is not a legal system in the sense of the Mosaic Code (the Mosaic system was an onerous legal system, which required sinless conformity in order to be justified by it, Rom. 4 - 11).
Beloved, our relationship to God is determined by our proximity to God's law. If we do not have the truth and are not obeying God's commandments, then we do not have a saved relationship with God, according to the truth of the Bible (I Jn. 2: 3 ff.). Also, our acceptance or rejection of others is determined by their teaching and conformity to God's law (2 Jn. 9-11).
Those who clamor today that we must accent the love of God and eliminate law and commandments are either ignorant of God's teaching or simply do not care. "This is the love of God," John wrote, "that we keep his commandments " (I Jn. 5: 3). The statement concludes with the assurance, " and his commandments are not grievous."