There are some strange commands in the Old Testament. Many that we no longer apply. So why do modern Christians apply certain commands like “do not steal,” but not others like “cut off her hand?” People often say “well, much of that Law passed away with the New Covenant.” But I think we need a little more clarity on that. Theologian J. I. Packer distinguished three separate types of Law (the Do and Don’t lists God gave to Moses): Moral, Civil/Political, and Ceremonial Law.
Moral Law represents good things to do all the time.
Civil/Political Law is application of the Moral Law on a municipal and national level (think speed limits and garbage restrictions).
Ceremonial Law is a set of regulations that governed the worship rituals of God’s people. These were rituals for relating to God- like sacrifices, offerings, and festivals.
It’s still a good idea to follow the Moral Law, even today. In fact, the Moral Law is the only set of rules that still applies today! The 10 Commandments are definitely still relevant- stealing, killing, and adultery are still bad for us. But, it’s important for us to understand that following the Moral Law is not what “gets” us to Heaven. We don’t obey these rules to gain more love from God. It’s actually the opposite- we follow these laws because God declared us to be righteous. The legalistic approach to this law says this: “I live rightly. Therefore, God calls me righteous.” The grace-driven approach says “God declares me righteous. Therefore, I live rightly.” Do you see the difference?
You see, righteousness isn’t a reward for right-living; it is a gift that results in right-living! Christianity isn’t a process in which we earn God’s love. It’s the process in which we reflect love!
So, you might ask “why does sin even matter if God already calls me righteous no matter the behavior?” Well, there are a lot of reasons!
- Sin exposes us to sowing and reaping. If you touch a hot stove, you’ll still be burned! God, in his mercy, has created built-in consequences for every sin.
- Sin creates a desire to pull away from God. When Adam and Eve sinned, the first thing they did was hide from God. Sin doesn’t affect God’s love for you- only YOUR love for HIM.
- Sin forfeits our eternal rewards. Our beliefs determine where we spend eternity. Our behavior determines how.
- Sin undermines earthly impact. Without character and integrity, God can’t give you more influence and opportunity without it destroying you.
So, whether you’re motivated by legalism and earning your way to heaven, or you’re living in an extreme version of grace where nothing’s off limits, or somewhere in the middle of these two- God wants you to experience the joy of holy living according to His perfect plan!
I preached a message on this very topic recently, and you can find it here
For the handout from the message, click here.