God’s Emergency Use of Law (11:3)

The first of God’s emergency measures is the way He has used law as a model of salvation. Keep in mind, trust and love cannot be commanded or produced by force. But if it is true that God values nothing higher than our freedom, why has He made so much use of law? If all God asks is trust and love, why did He give us the Decalogue, which seems to demand our love and obedience under threat of execution? If He doesn’t wish to be seen as arbitrary, exacting, and severe, why has He surrounded us with innumerable rules?

Paul understood all about trust and freedom. He emphasized them so much that he was accused of doing away with God’s law. “No,” he said, “I intend no such thing. Faith does not abolish law. Faith establishes the law, by putting it in its proper perspective” (based on Romans 3:31). But what is the right perspective from which to view God’s use of law? “Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions” (Gal 3:19, RSV).

Paul goes on to explain why the law was added. In King James language he said, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (Gal 3:25). The Greek word behind “schoolmaster” is paidagogos. Some of you can hear pedagogue in that, or the pedagogical method. But that word actually was the name given to a trusted slave whose duty it was to take the children to school, to make sure they got there and stayed there. Then it was his duty to bring them home. He was not the teacher. He was the guardian; he was the protector. Now can you see the reason for the translation in the next passage?

So the Law has been our attendant on our way to Christ, so that we might be made upright through faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer in the charge of the attendant (Gal 3:24, 25, Goodspeed).

Compare that with the New International Version of the same text: “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

Now which law is Paul talking about? Which law was added, because of transgression, to lead us to Christ? Was it the ceremonial law? Was it the moral law? Was it all law? Would you dare include the Ten Commandments? Perhaps it would help to consider how God gave the Ten Commandments. One day He gathered His misbehaving children together at the foot of Sinai. He announced, “I want all the murdering to stop, and all the hating to stop. I want all the stealing, cheating, lying, and immorality to stop. I want you to stop going after other gods.” What an emergency it must have been, that He had to ask His children to stop doing all those things! You recognize, of course, the Decalogue (Exod 20:3-17). It was added because of transgressions.

Have you ever had to do this in your home? What if some of you fathers had to say during morning worship, “Now Billy, let us see if we all can make this a very good day in our family. When you are at school today, do you promise not to murder any of your friends?”
“Yes, Daddy, if you insist.”
“And Mary, do you promise not to steal any more while you are in school?”
“Well yes, Daddy, if you insist.”
Then you turn to your wife and say, “And when I am at work, please do not commit adultery again. Do you promise, wife?”
“Well yes, if you insist.”

If you were to do this some morning, be sure not to leave your window open, or the neighbors will assume that terrible things are happening in your home. Imagine how the Devil must have mocked God for having to say to His children, “Please, I want all this to stop!” The law was added because of sin (Gal 3:19). There was no need before sin entered the universe to say such things to the loyal angels. They didn’t need a law to do what was right. They did what was right because it was right. It was on that awesome day when sin entered the universe that God first had to speak of law. Here on earth, as well, the law was added because of sin. And along with law, God had to say that sin, rebelliousness, and lawlessness result in death.

There are many dangers, however, in the use of law. Once law has been expressed, people will assume that doing right means merely obeying the rules. Or that sin is merely disobeying the rules. Or that the penalty for breaking the rules is execution by the Rule-giver. Or that if God forgives you He won’t have to execute you. Or that He can forgive you because someone else paid the legal penalty. But what if you turn down the offer? Will you then be painfully destroyed, perhaps even more painfully because of your ingratitude? That is the kind of understanding that can lead to the obedience that springs from fear.

But if one sees the bigger picture of all sixty-six books, you see that what God really wants is not mere obedience to the rules: He wants us to do what is right because it is right. He wants the obedience that springs from love and trust, and that is offered in the highest sense of freedom. In that view, what will happen if I choose to go my own rebellious way? He will sadly let me go, as He let His Son go. I will die, and He will cry. But there is no need to be afraid. God wishes that to be understood for all eternity.

But why then the law? It was added to protect us until we had better understanding and better motivation. So we can thank God for the rules He gave us. Some are very stern. We needed them. They were emergency measures. “Does this mean that by this faith we do away with the Law? No, not at all; instead, we uphold the Law” (Rom 3:31, GNB). Thank God for the Law because we needed it, particularly those of us who are misbehaving members of the family: “We know that the law is good if a man uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for good men but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful” (1 Tim 1:8-9, NIV). Note the same verse in the Phillips Translation: “We also know that the law is not really meant for the good man, but for the man who has neither principles nor self-control.”

If you have principles and self-control, you are led by the Holy Spirit, and you don’t need to be told to love God and to love each other. That is God’s ideal. Now the same understanding is true of the whole sacrificial system, which was certainly not against us (as was the “handwriting of requirements” in Colossians 2:14). It was to teach us things we needed to know. The sacrifices were especially given to remind us of how serious sin and its consequences are. “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb 10:3-4, RSV).

The remedy was yet to come. But in the meantime the sacrifices reminded us of the seriousness of sin. Misunderstood, however, these very same sacrifices and ceremonies turned many people away from God. Think of what happened on crucifixion Friday, which also happened to be Passover weekend. The people who celebrated that Passover, and kept that special Sabbath, did not know the One who was represented in them. They did not understand the meaning of the ceremonies or understand God’s plan. Most of all they did not know God Himself, and nailed Him to the cross.

This was in spite of the fact that many Old Testament prophets had tried to make the meaning of the sacrifices clear, Jeremiah in particular:

For on the day that I brought your fathers out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them, nor give them command regarding burnt-offering or sacrifice; but this command I gave them, “Listen to My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people“ (Jer 7:22-23, Smith/Goodspeed).

Jeremiah looked forward to the day when everything would be restored, and the ceremonies that God had added because of sin would have served their purpose. “In those days. . . men shall speak no more of the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord; they shall not think of it, nor remember it, nor resort to it; it will be needed no more” (Jer 3:16, RSV).

I do hope the Lord keeps the Ark of the Covenant in the heavenly museum. I would like to go look at it. It might remind us of the emergency measures God was willing to use in the past. But what was the purpose of all those ceremonies, and rituals and sacrifices? Jeremiah 31 tells us what God has always wanted:

I will put My law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know Me (Jer 31:33-34, RSV).

All God has ever wanted was to bring the family together again. This would happen when God’s law was written on their hearts and minds. And how eloquently Hosea not only taught this, but demonstrated it: “It is true love that I have wanted, not sacrifice; the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings” (Hos 6:6, Phillips). Look how well that has been put in the Good News Bible: “I would rather have My people know Me than have them burn offerings to Me” (Hos 6:6, GNB). To know God means to love Him, to trust Him, to be willing to listen. That is all God has ever wanted or ever will want for all eternity. All these emergency measures are designed to lead us back to that.

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