God gave the people of Israel His written law in the form of the Ten Commandments. He also spoke to these Israelites in order that He might teach, guide, and empower them to live as He wanted them to live. However, what about those who lived before the Ten Commandments were given? Did they have to live by God’s standards? Was there a Law of God before the time of Moses?
What is God’s law? What are the characteristics of this law? Is this law still important to Christians, and/or others, today? God, as creator, created us to live, and conduct ourselves, His way. As His creatures, we are obligated to relate to Him as our creator.
The Law applies to everyone
God’s moral law, which stems from His very character, is timeless and eternal. When God created Adam and Eve , He expected them to live according to certain standards, His standards. We know that He gave them specific instructions concerning a certain tree of which they were not supposed to eat (Genesis 2:17). However, as Creator, God also expected His creatures to obey Him concerning all of life. He set Adam in the Garden and instructed him to work there (Genesis 2:15). Although not strictly a moral standard, this was a command that required Adam’s obedience.
We see this principle of knowing God’s law inwardly in Romans where Paul tells us, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16 ESV). Gentiles were non-Israelites; they had not received the Ten Commandments or any other written laws of God. Nevertheless, God had implanted the knowledge of right and wrong in their hearts, giving them the opportunity to choose good or evil, guided by their consciences. God’s divine nature is clearly seen in Creation (Romans 1:19-20), so that we know that He requires something of us, that we are unworthy to be in His presence, and that we have no excuse for staying in that condition.
The Law leads, or drives, one to Jesus
“… if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:21-22 ESV). The law shows us what sinners we are. The law contrasts the holiness of God with the sinfulness of humanity. It shows us just how broken we are. It forces us to realize that we need a Savior. The Bible says that God cannot look upon sin (Habakkuk 1:13).
The Law shows us what sin is
“…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin…since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 7:7, 3:20a ESV). The law of God lays out for us what sin is. Sinful humanity would like to create its own definition of sin, which would be flexible and would reflect whatever standard of morality  that was popular at the time. We see this taking place right now in our own culture. However, this is God’s universe; He sets the standards for living in it. He has that right. He created everything and He sustains everything. Therefore, “…who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:20 ESV).
No one is saved by the Law
The biblical record is clear that no one can do enough good things to merit eternal life, “…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16, cf. 3:11 ESV). Nevertheless, there are now, and always have been, those who think that they can reject Jesus Christ but still do enough to work their way to Heaven.
However, the law was never meant to be able to save us, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight…” (Romans 3:20b ESV). The law’s main objective was to show us how sinful we are. It was meant to make us conscious of our moral bankruptcy before a holy God. It was designed to bring us to our knees in humble repentance as we realize our need of forgiveness . It was designed to reveal our need for Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
Jesus fulfills the law
When one becomes a follower of Jesus Christ, the oppressiveness of the law is removed. It is not that God’s law is no longer meaningful; Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17 ESV). However, Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, and now we seek to do God’s will out of love for Him that comes from a clean and forgiven heart. Where the law once made us painfully aware of our sinfulness, it now gives us a standard by which we seek to please God from a, “…love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (I Timothy 1:5 ESV).
God’s law is important to us today for several reasons. The most important thing it does is to force us to recognize our need for righteousness, forgiveness, and salvation. Only in Jesus Christ can these things be gained, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4 ESV).
Without Jesus Christ, the law shows us our shortcomings and condemns us to eternal punishment separated from the love of God. When we become followers of Jesus, instead of the law being an oppressive taskmaster, it is now a guide for us so that we might know how to better serve our Lord, God, and Savior.
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The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
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