"For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law." (Romans 5:13). These were words Paul used in his lengthy letter to the Romans, as he expounded on Law and Grace.
When God instructed Moses to give the Law to His people, it was to reveal the sinfulness in their failure to acknowledge the LORD God. It was part of His plan to prepare Israel for the coming of their Messiah. Without the Law, they had no knowledge of sin. But it was necessary to expose sin so they could practice the shedding of blood for atonement. Throughout the Law, the prophetic provision of God's Sacrifice can be seen in the repetition of the phrases, "If a man do. . . then he shall take. . . shedding blood. . . making atonement. . . shall be forgiven." Each time the Law was transgressed, it was necessary that blood be shed so forgiveness could be granted to the transgressor. Even then, there were some exceptions which resulted in death or expulsion from among God's people Israel.
The Old Testament is full of accounts of Israel's unwillingness to acknowledge God. At creation, He had become life to man when He breathed into him the breath [spirit] of life.1 Man's sin was his independence from God, and Israel continued on the same path. Man no longer acknowledged God as God, but relied on the knowledge of good and evil introduced by Adam and Eve. Wayward Israel suffered many things. But at the same time God's love was unfailing--He was always there to provide, to heal and to free them.
Israel was in bondage in Egypt until God brought them out. Although Moses repeatedly asked Pharaoh to let his people go, his pleading went unheeded. God was at work, even through Pharaoh, to reveal Himself as "the LORD God."
When the time came for His people Israel to come out of Egyptian bondage, the first words God spoke to Moses were, "I am the LORD." He continued with, "Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say to you." Moses replied, "I am of deficient and impeded speech; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me?" (Exodus 6:29-30 Amplified). Moses was concerned that he was a mere mortal, with lips of flesh, and Pharaoh would have no cause to pay attention to anything he might say. The LORD'S response was that He would make Moses a "god" to Pharaoh, with Aaron as his prophet. And that He would give Moses the words for Aaron to speak unto Pharaoh, telling him to let the children of Israel go. God told Moses that Pharaoh would not listen to him, and He went on to say, "I will lay My hand upon Egypt and bring forth My hosts, My people the Israelites, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch forth My hand upon Egypt and bring out the Israelites from among them…But the Lord made Pharaoh's heart more strong and obstinate, and he would not let the Israelites go." (Exodus 7:1b-5; 10:20 Amplified).
God's great acts of judgment came in the form of multiple afflictions upon the Egyptians, yet God hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his servants, again and again.2 God explained it to Moses, saying he would relate to his sons and grandsons the things God had done so that they "may know that I am the LORD."3 And He told Moses to declare to Pharaoh how He had raised up Pharaoh to show him His power that "my name may be declared throughout all the earth." (Exodus 9:16).
Ten chapters later, the message is still the same with this introduction to the first of the Ten Commandments: "And God spoke all these words, saying: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me . . . for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. . ." (Exodus 20:1-3, 5b NKJV). God continually pleaded for self-centred man to turn from self and to acknowledge the LORD God.
God desired that Israel not forget Him, and He required them to keep His statutes so they might live and not be destroyed.4 If they feared the LORD, trusted Him as Healer and Provider, and did not become puffed up, they would escape the destruction which came upon the Egyptians. But He said that if they forgot Him to "walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them," they would "surely perish."5
God's patience with rebellious man of flesh indicated the great love He had for His people Israel. However, as long as flesh prevailed with its knowledge of good and evil, there would be failure after failure. Only if they were successful at keeping the Law could they measure up to God's requirement that they acknowledge Him. He reminded them repeatedly with the words, "I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD." Here is another example of God's words of pleading:
Therefore you shall keep My commandments, and perform them: I am the LORD. You shall not profane My holy name, but I will be hallowed among the children of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 22:31-33 NKJV).
God alone gave breath [spirit] to man, and God alone takes away their breath [spirit]. And it is God Who ordained the length of life to be "threescore years and ten; or even by reason of strength fourscore years, yet is their pride but labour and sorrow; for it is soon gone, and we fly away." (Psalm 90:10).
God had a plan to bring Eternal Life to mortal man. But first, He had to effect reconciliation by removing that which separated man from Himself. To destroy all flesh would leave Him without man. He could have started over and created a new human race, but instead He chose to redeem fallen man. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him." (John 3:16-17).
All mankind is mortal and, whether he is born a Jew or a Gentile, he is a man in the image of man and condemned to death. Adam chose death through the knowledge of good and evil, when he could have chosen Life. As Paul wrote, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22). The Law of Moses, given to Israel, was fulfilled in Jesus so that all flesh could be reconciled to God. Paul the Apostle pointed out how Jesus is our peace, and has made both Jew and Gentile as one new man, because He "has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances. . . For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father."6
God's ultimate plan was to come "in the likeness of sinful flesh"7 and then die to reconcile man to Himself. In so doing He would fulfill the Law's requirement by shedding His own sinless blood to make atonement for the sin of all, once for all. Another way Jesus fulfilled the Law was through His own acknowledgement of the Father. He very often referred to God as "the Father," rather than "my Father." For God was not only Jesus' Father, but the One who would father all those born from above. In Colossians 1:18, Paul referred to Jesus as "the firstborn from the dead."
There was nothing about the Law that could make man pure. The very detailed, intricate laws were so easily transgressed. And man's incapability to perfectly obey was exposed by the Law which served only to reveal the sinfulness of his fallen state and his need for God.
As long as there was the Law, there was transgression. ". . . For the Law results in [divine] wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression [of it either]." (Romans 4:15 Amplified). At the same time Jesus made a way for man to receive a new heredity, He removed the "strength of sin [which] is the law."8 Sin is the transgression of the Law, but Jesus nailed it to the cross: ". . . having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Colossians 2:14 NKJV).
Because of the Cross, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death."9 Because of the Cross, the Law was fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit, and not after the flesh, for "the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace. . . And they that are in the flesh cannot please God."10 The mind of flesh is full of the knowledge of good and evil--the same knowledge which resulted in man's eviction from the Garden of Eden.
Jesus came to free man from himself and his own way. He did not make rules for man to obey. If God had expected man to adhere to rules and regulations, Jesus would not have had to die, but would have stayed on earth to monitor compliance to His rules. All of His teachings are truths to be lived out in the power of His life, which produces the fruit of righteousness.
We are told that "without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing unto him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is [God,] and that he is a rewarder of them that seek after [Greek: crave]11 him." (Hebrews 11:6). If man relies on himself, through obedience to rules and regulations, he cannot be pleasing to God. It makes no difference whether it is man's religious laws or Moses' Law--man cannot please God. Only Christ in man can please the Father.
The well-known Ephesians 2:8-9 could be paraphrased: "For by the divine influence on the heart have you been saved through relying upon Christ for salvation: not through deeds of the flesh, that no man should glory." With the Holy Spirit's influence on our hearts, we are led to rely upon Christ for our salvation. If there were any other way, such as obedience to some law, we would have cause to glory in our works.
In explaining the true purpose of the Law, Paul poses a question: "What then is the law?" And he answers by saying, "it was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise hath been made." (Galatians 3:19a). The Scriptures show that all people were included in a common subjection to sin, until the promise through "faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Paul's next words relate wonderful news for God's people Israel. "But before faith came, we were kept in ward [Greek: protected]12 under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law hath been our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor. For ye are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:21-26 RV).
The men who revised the King James Version of the bible, between 1870 and 1885, wisely changed the word "schoolmaster" to "tutor." Schoolmaster did not show the love of the Father but left the impression that God was standing over man with a whip, enforcing obedience to His rules. When we read the Old Testament and see the waywardness of Israel, we cannot help but begin to understand the depth of God's love and His endless mercy toward them. They were God's chosen people, His children. And He provided a tutor to bring them unto Christ and to teach them to acknowledge Him. He kept them "in ward under the law" for their own protection. "But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem them which were under the law." (Galatians 4:4-5a).
As good as the Ten Commandments are in principle, they can never make us righteous--and righteousness can never be legislated. In his misguided desire to "rule over" others, carnal man may try to bring others into submission by holding up the Ten Commandments as a "law" to make them righteous. But as the bible tells us, "Love is the fulfilling of the law." (Romans 13:10b). We know, then, that one who walks in love would never be found in violation of even one of Moses' Ten Commandments.
1. Genesis 2:7
2. Exodus 7:3
3. Exodus 10:2
4. Deuteronomy 6:24-25
5. Deuteronomy 8:19
6. Ephesians 2:14-18
7. Romans 8:3
8. 1 Corinthians 15:56
9. Romans 8:2
10. Romans 8:4-8
11. Greek #1567
12. Greek #5432