Our nation is built on a system of laws. When people break those laws they receive punishment and there is retribution or payment. Within a perfect system, guilty people serve a just sentence and repay what they’ve taken from society. Obviously, our nation is proof that sin has a huge impact on how people judge and who they deem guilty. The rules are meant to be that those who break the law are condemned.
We’ve seen cases where judges have committed injustice and broken laws for personal gain or out of their misuse of power (Thousands of U.S. judges who broke laws or oaths remained on the bench (reuters.com). Judges can easily judge with partiality and ignore the evidence needed to decide a case. Laws given by people can be easily misinterpreted and can lead to corruption. Knowing this, what does it look like for the law to be perfectly unbiased, fair, but also somehow full of grace?
What is the Law?
In the Old Testament, specifically in Leviticus, God lays out the duties of the Levitical priests and the laws that the Israelites were called to follow. Laws pertaining to the government, sanitation, ceremonies, and morals were given to God’s chosen people. Leviticus is written right after the tabernacle, so God’s temple is at the center of their camp. The temple was not simply a building, but a space where heaven and earth met. Sin is shown in the Old Testament to separate the Israelites from the presence of God and this space. So, bringing sin into the camp meant defiling the temple of God and allowing it into a space where God’s presence rested. Sin would defile that holy space if not for a reminder of the holiness of God. That is the Law.
It’s important to note that the Law is both the entire Bible (as Jesus shows us in John 15:25) and the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law in the Bible are the Ten Commandments and a long list of detailed laws which were recorded in the book of Leviticus. These laws were based on the covenant or agreement that God reestablished with Moses and Israel (Exodus 19:3-5). To obey God meant to keep their part of the agreement. If they did this, God promised to lift them up as His holy nation.
Ultimately, the Israelites would sin and break the covenant over and over. God knew they would sin and specifically gave instructions for them to give sacrifices to cover their sins. This was a system of atonement that never ended. No matter how many sacrifices, the Israelites were still separated from God because of their sin.
Despite our shortcomings being exposed by the Law, it is still holy and its commandments are “holy and righteous” (Romans 7:12). The Mosaic Law existed “in order that sin might be shown to be sin” (Romans 7:13). Without the Word of God or the Bible, we wouldn’t understand what actions, thoughts, and words separate us from Him. If God is the ultimate being, then it would follow that the standard for truth, love, justice, grace would be set by Him. He establishes the foundation for what is good or bad. The Garden of Eden shows us that when we seek to have control over our lives and live in our own understanding (the fruit of the tree), we end up further away from righteousness. We end up in sin and separated from God’s presence.
God is a Righteous Judge
We understand the importance of a system that tries and convicts those who are murderers, rapists, and so on. We also are capable of feeling indignation at injustice in our systems. Imagine your brother or sister was convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. How would that make you feel? That anger we have towards injustice is the same as God’s outrage towards sin. Psalm 7:11 says that “God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.” God is angry at sin and justly so. Sin robs us of fellowship with God and pushes us away from knowing Him (1 John 1:6). The wages of sin is death which is eternal separation from God and His favor (Romans 6:23). If our lives are led by sin, we will find ourselves separated from life and peace living our days out in fear.
The question is it possible for us to follow all the commandments and be righteous on our own? Well, James 2:10 says that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:28 that if you look at a woman with lust then you’ve committed adultery in your heart. Also, if you have anger towards a brother you are liable to judgement. It’s not a sin to be angry, but anger can cause thoughts that are impure and sinful. Jesus shows us that the heart of the law is not just in our actions, but in our thoughts and words. The very thoughts and attitudes of our heart are judged by the Law/Bible (Hebrews 4:12).
Essentially, if you’ve ever thought a bad thought towards someone, an impure thought or lied, you are already disqualified from being Holy. That’s why Romans says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Jesus was killed in our place, taking our punishment for our sins. By dying and being raised, He gave us victory over sin and death
Thankfully, God stepped in to justify us. The same burden that was placed on us by God was lifted by Him. Imagine that you just committed a heinous crime, but the Judge who gave the sentence gives his own son to repay the debt for your crime. That is what God did for us. Atonement was needed in order to satisfy the demands of the law and take away the basis for our condemnation. Jesus was killed in our place, taking our punishment for our sins.
By dying and being raised, He gave us victory over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:56). The new life we’ve been given allows us to be free from the slavery of our sin. Jesus is our justifier because He took away the consequences of our sin and gave us peace with God (Romans 5:1, Romans 3:26). Where our sins abounded, “grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Jesus fulfilled the law in three ways: 1. Morally He was perfectly obedient 2. Legally He endured the needed punishment for our sins, exchanging His righteousness to us and 3. Prophetically He fulfilled all prophecies set thousands of years before His death and ascension (Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 4:15, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus is God and He came in human likeness, so that sin would have no victory in our flesh. He came to fulfill the broken covenant with God through Himself, so that we may enter into a new agreement with our Father. The new covenant is simply this: By trusting in Christ Jesus we are saved from condemnation and delivered into eternal life. That because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God forgave us of our sins once and for all.
This is good news because we don’t have to carry the burden of trying to be perfect. We don’t have to wonder if we are good enough to be loved because we know we are loved regardless of our actions
Paul writes that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). This is important: to everyone who believes. This is to show us that being good doesn’t bring us salvation or peace with God. That we have only been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That by believing on Him, we are released from the old system of condemnation and brought into a new system that restores our relationship with our Father (2 Corinthians 3:9). We enter into a new law: the law of Christ. Turning from our sins, we get to inherit eternal life and walk into a fulfilling, purposeful life.
This is good news because we don’t have to carry the burden of trying to be perfect. We don’t have to wonder if we are good enough to be loved because we know we are loved regardless of our actions (Romans 5:8). Anyone who lives for Jesus is not condemned, but is free (Romans 8:1).
Though Jesus died for our sins, He didn’t just make us incapable of sinning. Until the day we die, we will always struggle with sinning because it’s in our nature. Thankfully, God didn’t leave us there. He saves us through His loving kindness which triumphed over the punishment for our sins. We don’t have to strive for a perfect life because Jesus already did that for us. Our command now is to seek to be more like Jesus and remove those things that keep us from being in God’s presence.