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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:The law of God and the Christian
Text:LD 34 QA 92 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Law is Good

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 84:1,2

Psalm 119:61-63

Psalm 1

Hymn 1

Psalm 84:5,6

Scripture readings:  Psalm 119:73-80, Mark 7:14-23

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 34 QA 92

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

When I was a boy, I had a bedroom full of books.  Most of them belonged to my Dad.  Since my Dad was a police officer, he had a copy of the Criminal Code of Canada sitting there in my bedroom.  Maybe it seems a little strange, but I quite enjoyed reading through the Criminal Code and learning about the different laws of Canada.

You do find more people like that.  You can be sure there are lawyers and judges who love the field of law.  But also in the church you occasionally find what we lovingly call a Church Order nerd.  This is the guy, it’s almost always guys, who just can’t wait to get their hands on the latest Acts of Synod.  Their heartrate picks up when they see a press release from the latest classis.  They love reading about the Church Order and all things to do with church politics. 

But we all know that most people aren’t like that.  Most people are at best indifferent to legal stuff like laws and regulations.  Some go further and actually hate authority, hate laws, hate policies, hate anything where someone else is telling them what to do.

This afternoon we’re beginning to look at God’s law with the help of our Heidelberg Catechism.  What kind of attitudes should Christians have about God’s law?  When you hear a question like that, your mind should right away turn to Psalm 119.  This Psalm speaks about the believer’s attitude towards God’s law.  The positive attitude you find in Psalm 119 is fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  He exemplified that attitude and lived it out perfectly.  Because we’re united to him through faith and the Holy Spirit, we read and sing Psalm 119 as a vision of who we want to be.  Psalm 119 is a guide for disciples of Jesus.  Psalm 119 shows disciples how their Master felt about God’s law and how they should too.  This is all in the context of how we respond to the rescue God has given us as a free gift.   

So we ought to be positive about the law of God, take an interest in it.  We ought to learn everything we can about God’s statutes, his commandments, his rules.  That’s what we’ll be doing in a general way here this afternoon.  We’re going to look at the law of God and the Christian.  Specifically, we’ll learn about:

  1. Three types of law
  2. Two uses of the Moral Law
  3. One summary of the Moral Law

Have you ever had this happen to you?  Someone finds out you’re a Christian and then they ask you that question you hoped they wouldn’t:  what do you think about homosexuality?  You start explaining that you believe what the Bible says.  Then they think they have you trapped.  They say that if you believe what the Bible says about homosexuality in passages like Leviticus 20, then you should also believe everything else the book of Leviticus says.  So they’ll say that you shouldn’t eat bacon, because pork is unclean.  And Leviticus 19:19 says you’re not supposed to wear a garment made of two kinds of material.  They’ll say you’re being hypocritical and inconsistent – you pick and choose which biblical commands to believe and follow.

That’s why it’s really important to know some basic things about biblical law.  One of those basic things is the three types of law we find in Scripture.  For centuries, Christian theology has recognized that there are these three categories:  ceremonial laws, civil laws, and moral laws.  And not all of those apply to Christians today the same way they applied to Jews in the Old Testament.  Let’s look a little closer at each category. 

Ceremonial laws are found only in the Old Testament.  These are the laws that had to do with things like the sacrificial system in the tabernacle and later on in the temple.  We’re talking about the laws that spoke about clean and unclean.  So the ceremonial laws include the dietary laws of Leviticus 11.  For example, Leviticus 11:7 says that pigs are unclean.  The Jews weren’t allowed to eat bacon. 

But these laws no longer apply to Christians after the coming of Jesus.  He fulfilled these laws.  How do we know this?  When it comes to the dietary laws, you can think of what we read from Mark 7.  In Mark 7:19, the Holy Spirit explicitly tells us that Jesus declared all foods clean.  This is confirmed in Acts 10 when Peter has this vision of all kinds of animals and he’s told to rise, kill, and eat.  He hesitates because he’s Jewish.  He’s never eaten anything unclean.  But the Lord tells him, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”  He was speaking about the breaking down of the distinction between Jew and Gentile, but the laws of clean and unclean were part of that distinction.  With that distinction rendered obsolete, those laws are obsolete.    

When it comes to the sacrifices for sin, Christ fulfilled those too.  That’s a point stressed repeatedly in the book of Hebrews.  For example, Hebrews 10:9 directly says that Christ has done away with the sacrifices and offerings for sin.  So when someone argues that Christians are inconsistent by refusing to follow all the biblical laws, they need to be reminded that all these pointed ahead to the coming of Christ, they were fulfilled in him, and they no longer apply to us the way they applied to the Jews.

Civil laws are also found only in the Old Testament.  Here we’re talking about those laws which were meant for Israel as a nation.  As an example you could think of the laws concerning warfare in Deuteronomy 20 or the laws about cities of refuge in Deuteronomy 19.  Those laws were relevant for life in Old Testament Israel, but since Israel as a nation no longer exists, these laws are obsolete.  That doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant or meaningless for us today.  There are still some underlying principles in the civil laws which need our attention.  For instance, there’s a law in Deut. 22:8 about building a parapet around the roof of a house to make sure that no one falls off it and dies.  The general principle is to take safety seriously around your house.  You take safety seriously because you care about other people.  A modern application would be to build a fence around your swimming pool so no children drown.

So both the ceremonial laws and civil laws of the Old Testament don’t apply to us in the same way that they applied to Jews under the old covenant administration.  The coming of Christ has brought about significant changes with these two categories.  But the third category is quite different.  The moral law of God has a permanent validity.  We’re talking here about the law of God which is always the standard to which God holds all of humanity.   

The moral law of God is found not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament.  You can find the moral law in places like the Sermon on the Mount.  Not only that, but when it comes to the Old Testament, the moral law of God existed before Moses and before the people of Israel existed as a nation.  God gave a moral command to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the fall into sin.  They were to obey only him, have no other gods besides him.  After the fall into sin, Cain murders Abel and God calls him to account for it.  Why?  Because Cain had violated God’s moral law.  In Genesis 6, before the Great Flood, we read in verse 5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  Note the mention of wickedness and evil there in Genesis 6.  That implies there’s a standard by which these things can be recognized.  There was a moral law.  This moral law was known.  God had somehow revealed it.  We read in Genesis 26:5 that Abraham obeyed God’s voice and kept his charge, his commandments, his statutes, and his laws.

The moral law of God is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments.  Over the coming weeks, we’re going to be looking at them in more detail.  But just in general, we can note for now that they divide up into two parts.  There are commandments that have to do with God (1-4), and commandments that have to do with people (5-10).  With each of these commandments, the Bible teaches us that there’s more to what God requires than just a literal reading of each commandment.  For example, the seventh commandment forbids adultery.  On a literal reading, one might say that this only prohibits extra-marital affairs.  But not so says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  He says that even looking at a woman with lust puts you in violation of God’s moral law.  And when God says you shall not commit adultery, he’s also saying that sexual relations must be limited to a man and a woman who are married to one another.  So what’s said about homosexuality in Leviticus is repeated in the New Testament in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and the book of Jude.  This belongs to the permanently valid moral law of God.  That’s been the consensus view of the Christian church literally for centuries.

Now when it comes to the moral law of God, here too we need to speak about Christ’s fulfillment of it.  He fulfilled the moral law in a way different from the way he fulfilled the ceremonial and civil laws.  When we say Jesus fulfilled the moral law, we mean that he obeyed it to the full.  He was perfectly obedient to God’s moral requirements.  Jesus did this to qualify as the perfect sinless sacrifice on the cross.  So he did it so he could pay for our sins, so we could be forgiven.  But he also fulfilled it with his obedience to offer the obedience to God that we should have offered under the terms of the covenant made with Adam before the fall into sin.  Because we couldn’t obey, he was obedient to the law in our place and his obedience is transferred to us in the sight of God.  That brings us righteousness before God.  That’s gospel comfort right there, loved ones. 

Let’s keep our attention on the moral law as we look at two uses of it for the Christian.  Here again we’re going to find that it all keeps coming back to Jesus.  Our whole faith focusses on him and how we use God’s law is no different.

The first use of the law is found right at the beginning of our Heidelberg Catechism.  “From where do you know your sin and misery?  From the law of God.”  That’s referring to the moral law.  The moral law exposes our sin, our rebellion against God.  It does that when you’re in the process of becoming a Christian, but it does that after you’re a Christian too.  The law of God gives us a reality check time and again, reminding us how we’re still in need of our Father’s forgiveness through Christ.  The law of God reminds us of how we’re sinners who are still dependent on grace every day.

That’s the main reason why we hear the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning.  As we come into God’s holy presence, we have to do so with humble hearts.  The Law of God teaches us that difficult lesson of humility.  You’re not as good as you think you are.  But it only teaches us that if we’re in tune with it.  Are you paying attention when we listen to the Ten Commandments?  Are you examining your life by God’s standards?  One thing that can help you to be more focussed is to actually open up your Bible to the 10 Commandments.    That can help you to be more conscientious about this part of our worship.

The other use of the law of God that we want to focus on is its place as a guide for our thankfulness.  Imagine a child who asked his parents for a really special gift for his birthday.  It was a unique, one-of-a-kind toy related to the child’s fascination with a certain superhero movie franchise.  It was a big ask.  But then the morning of his birthday arrives and he comes into the kitchen and there on the table is a wrapped up-present about the size of what he was hoping for.  He opens the present and can’t believe his eyes.  He just can’t stop saying thank you to his mom and dad.  That’s the way it should be.  When you receive a gift, thankfulness ought to be the response.  When you receive a really, really special gift, even more thankfulness is the appropriate response. 

Loved ones, in Christ we’ve been given the most special gift ever.  This is the gift of God’s own Son.  Nothing and no one is worth more than this Saviour.  He’s given to all who turn from their sins and trust in him.  His work on the cross is applied to those who believe.  His obedience to the moral law is transferred to those who believe.  Jesus rose from the dead to seal the victory for those who believe, a victory over sin and death.  This is given to all of us who believe freely and graciously.  No strings attached.  Just turn to Christ and you have forgiveness, righteousness, reconciliation, adoption, intercession, inheritance, and every other benefit the gospel promises.      

Now one ought to say to God, “How can I show my gratitude for this incredible gift?”  And God replies:  “Show your thankfulness by obeying my moral law.  I would be pleased if you would do that.”  The Christian says, “Because I love you, it would be my delight to obey you, just as Jesus my Saviour did.”  You see, this is really important:  we don’t obey the moral law to repay God.  You could never repay him for what he’s done for you in the gospel.  It’s impossible.  But you can respond to him in the appropriate way.  That way is to show your love for God by a thankful obedience to his moral law.  That’s where our Catechism will be taking us over the weeks ahead. 

I’ve already pointed how the moral law of God is encapsulated in the Ten Commandments.  However, the Ten Commandments themselves can also be summarized into an even more condensed form.  Jesus showed that in Matthew 22 when he spoke about the Great Commandment to love God with everything in our being and a second like it, to love our neighbour as ourselves.  And so if you want to bring it down to one word, it’s love.  The whole moral law of God comes down to love. 

Now it has to be said that that’s sometimes abused.  People will do certain things and then try to justify them by saying that they were just motivated by love.  That then makes it okay, at least in their mind.  For example, think of people disobeying the seventh commandment.  A husband cheating on his wife, but he justifies it by saying he was motivated by love for the other woman.  Love is all you need to make it all right. 

But I think there’s a pretty easy way to show how this type of thinking is an ungodly and wicked rationalization.  Let’s say my wife’s birthday is coming up.  She’s told me over and over again about the things that please her.  However, I haven’t been listening.  I decide that my wife would really be pleased with a fly rod.  Then she can go fly fishing.  Her birthday comes along and she gets a fly rod.  I tell her that I got her that fly rod because I loved her.  You see the problem, don’t you?  If you really love someone, you’ll listen to find out what pleases them.  If the Great Commandment is to love God wholeheartedly, you’ll listen to him to find out what pleases him.  You won’t follow your own ideas about what pleases God, but will always go back to his Word and use that as your reference point.  This is why our Lord says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In other words, if you love God, you will aim to follow his moral law.  Love doesn’t substitute for the moral law.  No, instead it summarizes it and leads us to it.

Loved ones, the law of God isn’t our enemy.  It isn’t our enemy any more than God is our enemy.  If we’re trusting in Christ, then God has a friendly heart towards us.  If we’re trusting in Christ, the law can’t condemn us, we’re not under its curse.  Jesus has taken care of that for us.  The law is now our friend – showing us our need for Christ, and also showing us how to please our Father.  Let’s praise God for his law, make use of it in examining our lives, and also let it guide the expression of our love and gratitude each day.  AMEN. 


O God in heaven,

You are holy and good, and so is your law.  Thank you for revealing your will for our lives.  We acknowledge again how we’ve often broken your law.  We thank you for Jesus who died on the cross to pay for our transgressions.  We thank you for his obedience to the law in our place.  May we all have thankful hearts for this great and wondrous gift of your Son.  Lead us with your Holy Spirit so we’re showing our love and gratitude with obedience to your law.  Please bless our time in the Ten Commandments over the coming weeks.  Help us to understand better your will for our lives so we can put it into practice for your praise and glory.                                                                                                          

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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