Bible Study: God’s Law
Have you ever tried to trick a child into doing something you want him to do by using "reverse-psychology"? You tell him "I don’t want you to eat all your peas, now don’t eat them!" And he proceeds to do exactly what you’ve forbidden him. Most of the time the child recognizes that this is just a game, but it also illustrates how something has gone horribly wrong in us that we delight in doing what is forbidden, especially what God has forbidden in His Law. Of course, God, being perfectly good and total love for us, only meant the best for us when He gave humanity His Law. In the same way, we protect and guide our children by setting limits and boundaries for them telling them how far they may go from home, what they may eat, when they need to get up, where they need to go, what good and had manners are-because we want them to have a good and rewarding life. When our parents placed these restrictions on us, we may have felt them to be overly restrictive and that our parents never wanted us to have any fun, but now as adults, we can see the wisdom of those limits.
When God made the world (Gen. 1), He set boundaries for the light and darkness, the land and the sea and deter-mined what animals would live where and what they would eat. God created an orderly universe that followed a set pat-tern of laws. And He placed humanity in that orderly world and meant us to follow His will in all things so that we would enjoy Him in all things. When He gave His Law to us, He wanted to show us how life works, what the wisest way to live was by setting boundaries for us that would protect us and give us the most fulfilling and satisfying lives possible. Moses said of God’s Law: "By doing these things a person shall live" (Lev. 185). Moses did not mean that a person would earn eternal life by doing the law, but that if we obeyed God’s rules for how He meant life to work, we would find true satisfaction while in this life.
The Law would have functioned that way except for one thing: Satan–or Sin as Paul calls him in Romans 7–had entered the human heart and was lying in wait at every opportunity to express his self-for-self nature in rebellion against God. In Romans 7:8, Paul says that "sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire." How did God’s righteous, holy and good commandment (7:12) present Satan with such a gold mine of an opportunity (at least as he saw it)? The answer is simply this: Satan makes the forbidden appear to be the most attractive and pleasurable thing available and presents God to us as one who is holding out on us and keeping us from what would make our lives truly satisfying. So Satan takes the very thing that was intended to give us the full life, the Law and makes it out to be the thing which keeps us from the good life. Satan deceives us and in that way puts into our hearts his own desires for the forbidden and then operates us through those desires.
But what is it that is so attractive about the forbidden? Why is it that nothing else seems to be more pleasurable to us than when it is forbidden to us? It is
not so much the forbidden object or activity that is enjoyable. It is rather the fact that we are breaking a rule, transcending a limit, pressing out beyond a boundary that someone has imposed upon us. In the moment we break a rule, there is that initial excitement of’ being free from all limits and boundaries and we feel larger than life–we have tasted and experienced something not permitted to ordinary mortals. Perhaps this seems a bit of an exaggeration, but somehow we feel we ought to be more than we are, extra-ordinary, and if we break a rule and enjoy the forbidden, for a moment, at least, we get to experience what it is to be a god.
And this is exactly how Satan tempted Eve in the garden: If only she were to taste the forbidden fruit, then her eyes would be opened and she would become like God, knowing good and evil (Gen 3:4). Her eyes would be opened: she would see life from a completely new perspective: whole new vistas would be opened up for her as she stood on life’s mountain, which God was illegitimately trying to withhold from her. God didn’t really have their best interests at heart; He was only afraid that Adam and Eve might acquire this knowledge and threaten His position at the top of the heap, as king of the world.
And so Satan tempted Eve with the dizzying heights of being able to decide for herself what good and evil were and not simply having to depend on God to tell her what to do and how to live This was the beginning of moral relativism and all its disastrous effects on humanity. Never mind that God is infinitely wise, and Love itself (1 John 4:16), Eve was going to claim the freedom to decide for her-self what was right and wrong and do what was right in her own eyes (Judges 21:25), regardless of the fact that she didn’t have the means to do it. She would be autonomous. The word autonomous comes from the Greek words auto, which means self and nomos, which means rule or law. Eve would play by her own rules, be subject to no one, answer to no one, because she would be the final arbiter of good and evil for herself. In a word, she would be like God. Of course this was a lie, for in the moment she began to think she could be independent and self-operating, answerable to no one and like God, Satan’s spirit immediately entered into her and took her over. Yes, Eve’s eyes were opened and she did live life from a new perspective-from the moment she believed Satan’s lie, Satan began to do his seeing and living through her.
But just because Adam and Eve discarded God’s command like so much refuse doesn’t mean that God’s Law disappeared. Since God, not Satan, is the Creator of the universe, God’s rules as to how His universe operates still apply and are still valid whether we believe them or not, or whether we obey them or not. When God told Adam and Eve that they would die if they disobeyed Him, His word was not nullified simply because Adam and Eve chose not to take Him at His word. Although they did not die right away in a physical sense, spiritually they died to God immediately and were dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). So God’s universe continued to operate by God’s Law whether humanity acknowledged that Law or not.
But now God’s Law assumes a different function than as a path to life. Now, because of Satan’s entry into humanity and our participation in His rebellion against God, the Law has two additional functions. First of all, because we are sinners, God’s Law convicts and condemns us for our sin. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23) and the Law rightly pronounces its sentence upon us. But the Law can only do this because it is now God’s instrument to expose sin in us, or rather, to expose Satan’s operation in us to ourselves. For Satan would deceive humanity not only in saying that there will be no consequences if we sin, he also would take away the knowledge of what is truly right and wrong. So God’s Law functions as God’s tool to diagnose our sin and expose what we are doing and what we are to ourselves. And so Paul says, "in order that sin might be recognized as sin, sin produced death in me, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful." In other words, Satan hates God’s Law so much and cannot resist rebelling against it that his abominably sinful acts through us become so awful that even we, deceived as we are, become aware of our Satan-operated condition, and perhaps begin to desire something different. So although the Law is not the solution to our Satan-operated condition, it continues to provide a valuable service to us in exposing our sin to us and thereby driving us to God for an answer.
At some level, Satan needs God’s Law to express his rebellion against God. Without a law to disobey, Satan has no means of expressing his disobedience through us. Ironically, then, God’s Law is like water to the seed of Satan’s rebellion in us: God’s Law gives Satan the opportunity to "sprout" and express himself in sins. So it would seem that if God just got rid of His law, then the problem would be resolved. But Paul says that sin was in the world even when there was no Law (Rom 5:13). In addition, God cannot simply set aside His Law, for that Law is how he set up the universe to work. Ultimately the "Law" is simply the character of God, how He works, and He can no more set aside the Law than He could set aside His own character. Besides, God knows that His Law commands what is highest and best for us, and because He is total love and goodness, pouring out Himself for us, He would never set that best aside. At the same time, the Law is not the solution to sin, for now Satan would try to deceive us Christians to think that if we only exercised enough self-effort we could keep God’s Law. We can now see that self-effort is really Satan’s attempt to either glorify himself through our successes and to condemn and destroy us if we fail. But all self-effort is really Satan, especially since God has already provided a remedy if we only trust Him.
Instead of setting the Law aside or leaving us to our own efforts to keep the Law, God sent His own Son to die on the Cross for us, to pay the wages of sin on our behalf, and to restore us to spiritual and eternal life. In his body death on the Cross, Christ expels Satan from our spirit, and when we accept Christ as our Savior, His Spirit enters into ours and we are joined in an eternal spirit union to Him (1 Cor. 6:17). If we trust Him, He is living within us to live His perfect Law out through us (Gal. 2:20), for the Law is nothing but the written manifestation of the character of God. We now have the Living Law, the Spirit of Christ within us, written on our hearts (2 Cor. 3:3).
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 16 No 3
- The Law: Stepping Stone to Man’s Exposure
- To Think About…
- Editor’s Note
- A Look at a Book
- Summer Camp 2000, The Adults
- Tape Talk
- Bible Study: God’s Law
- A Life Transformed
- Zerubbabel Focus: Computers
- Questions & Answers
- Spontaneous Living
- The Laugh of Faith
- Youth Camp Report
- On the Web
- The Christian in the Workplace
- Leadership in Music
- "One Died for All, Therefore All Died"
- God’s Restoration of Man
- Only Men Count
- Intercession In Action
- Faith Produces Deeds…
- Words to Live By…