Sunday, May 17, 2015

Covenant (9) Not for Perfection

The law of the covenant was not a system of rules to make people perfect. Moses understood the limitations of the law. Near the end of his life he said,

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deut 29:6).
Moses was a prophet. He was looking forward to a time when God would give his people a new heart, so that they could love him fully. This prophecy was fulfilled by the ministry of Jesus. Moses probably did not understand what Jesus would do, but he knew that his people needed a new heart. He knew that law could not change human hearts. The best that law could do was to limit the worst effects of sin, so that people could live together without fighting and destroying each other.

Humans have a tendency to try to prove their righteousness by creating a set of rules and struggling to abide by them. These efforts always fail, but this kind of legalism has been common in every age. The Pharisees twisted the laws God gave Moses into a set or rules that define righteousness. Jesus rebuked them for this. He said that they had placed an impossible burden on the people by transforming God’s law into the traditions of man.

They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them (Matt 23:4).
God never uses law in the way because he knows that no one can become holy by complying with a set of rules. When God gave the law, he was not giving a set of rules that people must keep to be righteous. He had a far more sensible objective. He was giving a set of laws that would restrain behaviour sufficiently to prevent the community from tearing itself apart.

The law was not given to make people righteous. It was given to unrighteous people to keep them from harming each other.

Paul spent a large part of his ministry debunking the myth that righteousness can be achieved by keeping the law. Here are two statements that make his position clear.

If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! (Gal 2:21).
Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith" (Gal 3:11).
The law never could make us righteous. True righteous can only be obtained through Jesus, and his righteousness is appropriated through faith. Trying to achieve righteousness by keeping the law is foolish, because it was not designed for that purpose.

Paul also explained that real Jews knew that they could not be justified by observing the law.

We who are Jews by birth an know that a person is not justified by the works of the law (Gal 2:15-16).
Many Christians assume that Paul taught that there is something wrong with God's law, but this is not true. He was very hostile to those who claimed righteousness through the law, but he was careful not to denigrate the law itself.
So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good… We know that the law is spiritual (Rom 7:12,14).
Paul understood that the law was spiritual and good, when used for the right purpose. He did not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

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