What does God’s law do? To answer that question we are going to look at the three types of law and the three uses of the law in the Bible.
Three Types of Law
In the Bible, there are three types of law. It is critical for our understanding and application of the Bible that we understand what they are.
The ceremonial law outlined Israel’s worship (see e.g. Lev. 1:1ff). This form of the law pointed forward to Jesus and is no longer necessary for Christians to follow (see e.g. Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1ff). Although it is important for Christians to understand how the ceremonial law served to point forward to Jesus the Messiah and Lamb of God (Jn. 1:29).
The civil law was the law for the people of Israel (see e.g. Deut. 24:10-11). Christians today are to obey the laws of the land in which they reside unless they contradict a clear command of Scripture (Rom. 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:13).
The moral law is for all people at all times and in all places. The 10 Commandments from the Old Testament (Ex. 20:1-17) and Jesus’ command to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40) are two examples of the binding moral law.
Three Uses of Law
Besides the three types of law, there are also three different important uses of the law. It is important that we don’t confuse these uses.
Convicting Mirror (the first use)
The law shows people the ugliness of their sin that they wouldn’t see otherwise. So, it is a mirror that convicts. The Apostle Paul said, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet'” (Rom. 7:7).[i] In this way the law is also a teacher, showing us our need of Christ Jesus the one and only Savior (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24).
Civil Morality (the second use)
The law is a form of common grace because it can limit the extent of the impact of sin. To the extent that the law is implemented and functioning, it helps towards the flourishing of society. Of course, morality itself never brings heart change. Only the Spirit through the good news of Jesus brings a person from spiritual blindness and death to abundant life. And yet, civil morality is a good thing (see e.g. Rom. 13:3-4).
Christians Model (the third use)
Christians have a whole new level of motivation for their morality. Christians love because Jesus first loved them (1 Jn. 4:19). Christians strive to be holy because their Father in heaven is holy (Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:15-17). Christians walk in love because Jesus walked in love (Eph. 5:2). This is the “family function” of the law. We don’t obey to earn God’s grace. We obey, in part, in response to God’s grace.
Christians seek to model their lives off of Christ’s life. They seek to live more in more like Him (2 Cor. 3:18). Christians strive to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
What does God’s law do?
The law provides the moral guidelines we need to know how to live. Yet, it also shows us that we can never perfectly keep the law on our own. So, it points us forward to our need for Jesus the one and only Savior. Lastly, the law tells us how to live in light of the “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) that we have received.
[i] The law also highlights God’s holiness. The LORD is separate from sin. When we see the law we see how seriously God takes sin and we thus see how holy He is. So, the law both shows us our sin and need for a Savior and shows us God’s radiant holiness.
*Photo by Sean Foster
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).
Rules are given for a reason. We may not always like them but as we saw last week, rules are good. It is no different this week as we look at rule #2.
The rule this week—don’t worship fake gods, they’re fake—just kinda makes sense. We can just see that it makes sense. We may not at first see, however, how common it is for us to disregard this rule. We disregard it all the time. Even though we may not even know it.
This rule comes with caution. If we don’t listen there’s trouble. So, we’ll look at the warning. But, on the positive side, it also comes with a promise of blessing to those who keep it.
1) The Rule (v. 4)
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them.”
What’s the big deal? I mean, I get not bowing. That seems weird. But why can’t week make stuff?
The Bible does not mean we can’t make things like painting, portraits, or sculptures. We know this because just a little bit later in Exodus God tells His people to make various things (e.g. Ex. 25:18-20, 33-34). The Bible means don’t make things that will lead you or someone else away from worshiping God, and worship Him in the right way, the way He has told us to worship Him.
As John Frame has said, “It is the misuse of an image that God condemns, not its existence or presence.”
God is invisible so we are not to try to make visible by making images of Him (cf. Deut. 4:15-19). God is living (e.g. Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10) so we can’t represent Him with something that is not. Unlike idols, for the one true God, “there is no assembly required.”
God is. He is that He is.
As Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
It is important that we worship God in the way He has told us to. For one reason, as Albert Mohler has said, “The wrong worship implies the wrong god.” It implies that He is not Lord of the universe. But He is. So, we must worship Him in the right way.
“And God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).
For the next couple of weeks, we’re going to be looking at rules, the Ten Commandments. Yeah! Just what everyone wants to look at! Rules! I’m sure you’re giddy with delight.
Rules often have a bad reputation. They have for me in the past. Let me ask you though, have you heard of Thomas the Train? Thomas was a train. A blue train to be exact, and a happy train most of the time. But Thomas wanted to be free. He wanted to be free from the restrictions of the train track. He was unhappy because wanted to roam in the open countryside.
One day he got fed up. He made a break for it. He was going to go off the restrictive tracks once and for all! He was going to know freedom.
So, he did. He went of the tracks. He was finally free from the railroad tracks!
What do you think Thomas’ “freedom” was like?…
It was crushing. Literally, crushing. He couldn’t move. He was stuck.
He was somewhere where he wasn’t meant to be.
We often have…
Concern about Rules
We don’t like rules. But rules are good. Have you ever played the card game Mao? It’s a game with unspoken rules. It’s really hard to play because you don’t know the rules but get penalized when you break them. Rules are good because they keep things the way they’re supposed to be kept. They keep Thomas on the tracks so that he is free to come and go, free to be what he is supposed to be. It’s also good to know the rules so you’re not “penalized” for something you didn’t know.