God The Supreme Lawgiver

In this modern, increasingly lawless age, multitudes of people do not like the idea of there being a God Who has laws. But James 4:12 reveals God is the Supreme Lawgiver: “There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy…” God has created natural laws such as the law of gravity. But He has also made various laws about the morals, social behaviour and religious practices of humans. God’s right laws have been expressed in a number of forms:

 

         Conscience. Romans 2:14-15 says: “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things contained in the law…who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness…” These verses show that prior to God giving the Law to Moses, people had His laws written on their hearts and consciences. Even after the Mosaic Law was given, all humans still were born with God’s Law written on their hearts and consciences. Acts 24:16 shows conscience is associated with how humans relate to God and other people: “…I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.”

         Holy Spirit-inspired revelation to Abraham. Genesis 26:5 reveals Abraham knew many of God’s laws and statutes. This was before the time the Law was given to Moses and recorded in writing. Genesis 26:5 says: “Because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

         The Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law is found in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Law of Moses relates to the Mosaic Covenant. Refer to Chapter… “The Mosaic or Old Covenant” for more details.

         God’s commands in a more general sense. For example, in John 15:25 Jesus quoted Psalm 35:19 or 69:4 as being an aspect of God’s Law. In John 10:34, Jesus quotes Psalm 86:2 as being part of God’s Law. In 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul refers to Genesis 3:16 as being a part of the Law. In 1 Corinthians 14:21, Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11-12 as being a part of the Law. This was even though none of these Old Testament verses are parts of the Law of Moses.

         The Law of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2). But note Christ’s Law is at a higher standard than the Mosaic Law (see Matthew 5:21-32, 5:38-42 and 19:7-8). The Law of Christ includes the two great love commandments (see Matthew 22:35-40) and all other more specific commandments given under the New Covenant in the New Testament.

One may argue that the prophecies of God’s Servant (Jesus Christ) in Isaiah 42:1-4 and of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27 include references to the Law of Christ. Note Isaiah 42:4 refers to “His Law” meaning God’s Servant’s Law. This verse prophesies God’s Servant’s Law would be heard by the coastlands, referring to non-Israelites. Jeremiah 31:33 refers to God’s Law being written on the hearts and minds of New Covenant believers.

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul makes a clear distinction between the Law of Moses and Christ’s Law: “And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without the law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law.”

God’s New Covenant commandments

 

In 1 Corinthians 7:19, Paul, the man of God’s grace, said: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters”.[1] Here Paul reveals that under the New Covenant, it is still exceptionally important to aim to obey God’s New Testament commandments.

But do not fall into the common trap of believing the only commandments God wants born-again Christians to obey are Jesus’ two love commandments. In 1 Corinthians 14:37, Paul states all of the instructions he gave the Corinthians were the commandments of God: “…the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.” Paul here uses the same Greek word for “commandments” – “entole” – that he uses in 1 Corinthians 7:19 quoted above.

In 1 John 2:7-11, 3:23, 5:2, 5:3 and 2 John 4-6, God’s commandments are linked to loving God and other people. But as seen in Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 14:37, God’s commandments for New Covenant believers are far more numerous and specific than just the two general love commands in which they are summarized.

God is infinitely wise. He knows the tendency towards deception in human hearts. Therefore, He commands us to love Him and others as the central basis of our relationships. But to make sure people do not, for example, commit the evil of sexual immorality while claiming what they do is based on love for God and for their sexual partner, God gives more specific commandments in the New Testament against such immorality (see Galatians 5:19 and Ephesians 5:3-7).

 

The New Testament has rules in it for believers to obey

 

Contrary to the claim of some people, the New Testament has rules in it for New Covenant believers to obey. In the New Testament, we are commanded to not steal (see Ephesians 4:28), not get drunk (see Ephesians 5:18), not allow self-centred anger to rule us (see Ephesians 4:26), not lie (see Ephesians 4:25), not be greedy (see Ephesians 5:5), not be sexually immoral (see 1 Thessalonians 4:3), be humble (see 1 Peter 5:5-6), not worry (see Philippians 4:6), pray constantly (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17), not boast (see James 4:13-16), be filled with the Holy Spirit continually (see Ephesians 5:18), and many other things.

Some churchgoers misuse Romans 3:20, 6:14-15, 7:4-6, 8:3-4, 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Galatians 2:16, 3:11 and 5:18 by claiming these verses prove that God does not expect any New Covenant believer to obey any law, command or absolute rule. But these verses do not teach this. Instead they reveal that New Covenant believers are not under the Mosaic Covenant and Mosaic Law and/or no one can merit salvation through obeying the Mosaic Law. Jesus instituted a change of covenants and emphasised salvation is by grace alone.

In 1 Timothy 1:6-7, Paul referred to similar false teachers in the early church period: “from which some, having strayed, have turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm.” Paul said these churchgoers wanted to teach others about the Law, but they did not know what they were talking about.

 

Lawless churchgoers really accuse Paul of being a legalist

 

Teachers of lawlessness usually hate to use the words “laws” or “commands” or “rules” in relation to the daily living practices of born-again Christians. They despise these words more than they do the mark of the beast!! They imagine that any churchgoers who say New Covenant believers should obey any laws or commands are legalists. If they are right, this would mean the Apostle Paul was a legalist. This is because Paul used the words “commands”, “commandments”, “rules” and “laws” in a number of New Testament verses.

In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul used the word “command” when giving one of God’s laws in relation to marriage. In 1 Corinthians 7:19 and 14:37 Paul mentioned the great importance of obeying God’s New Testament commands. In Galatians 6:16, Paul speaks of following a rule.

In Ephesians 6:1-2, he reveals the Sixth Commandment about honouring our father and mother applies to New Testament believers. Paul puts this command in a New Covenant context.

In 2 Thessalonians 3:4, Paul showed he regarded his own teachings as God’s commands. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, he commanded in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ that believers keep away from every so-called brother in Christ who is lazy and does not live according to what Paul preached. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says: “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.”

In 2 Thessalonians 3:12, Paul used the word “command” when telling believers to settle down and earn the bread they eat. In 1 Timothy 4:11 Paul instructed Timothy, the senior pastor at the church at Ephesus to command his people to do what God had led Paul to write as God’s commandments: “These things command and preach.”

Acts 16:4 records Paul, Silas and Timothy delivered to Gentile Christians the Holy Spirit-inspired decrees of the Council of Jerusalem mentioned in Acts 15:6-29. This council declared these non-Israelite believers were not under the Mosaic Law. So the decrees referred to in Acts 16:4 are God-inspired rules about what attitudes New Covenant Gentile believers should have to the Mosaic Law and associated matters.

In Greek, the word “decrees” in Acts 16:4 is a form of the word “dogma” which means “ordinance, decision, command”. [2] The dogma referred to here relates to part of God’s written Word given though the apostles and not to man-made church traditions.

 

Nine of the Ten Commandments are restated under the New Covenant

 

Note that nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated or restated under the New Covenant in the New Testament:

 

a. 1st  Commandment                 Acts 14:15 and 1 Thessalonians 1:9.

b. 2nd Commandment                 1 John 5:21.

c. 3rd  Commandment                James 2:7, Revelation 13:6, 16:9 and Ephesians 4:25.

d. 5th  Commandment                Ephesians 6:1.

e. 6th  Commandment                Matthew 5:21-26 and 1 John 3:15.

f. 7th  Commandment                 Matthew 5:27-30 and Hebrews 13:4.

g. 8th  Commandment                Ephesians 4:28.

h. 9th  Commandment                Ephesians 4:25 and Colossians 3:9.

i. 10th Commandment                 Hebrews 13:5 and Ephesians 5:3.

 

The only commandment not restated or repeated in the New Testament is the Sabbath command.

Note also some of the things Paul listed in Galatians 5:19-20 are some of the Ten Commandments restated: Galatians 5:19-20 mentions adultery or sexual immorality (7th Commandment), idolatry (2nd), jealousy and envy (10th) and murder (6th). 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 adds stealing (8th Commandment) to a similar list.

 

The New Covenant contains higher standards than the Mosaic

 

2 Corinthians 3:8 and Ephesians 3:2 refer to the New Covenant dispensation of grace and of the Holy Spirit. I have heard some teachers basically say that under this New Covenant dispensation, God’s standards of expected behaviour for believers have been lowered. This is a tragic misunderstanding of God’s grace and His Holy Spirit’s work.

Jesus set higher standards for New Covenant believers than those living under the Mosaic Covenant. Also, He has given all New Covenant believers His Holy Spirit’s power to enable them to obey His higher standards.

Two of the Ten Commandments – the 6th and 7th – are amended by Jesus to a higher standard in the New Testament (see Matthew 5:21-30). [3]

Someone may argue, “When in Matthew 5:21-30 Jesus referred to the Old Covenant commands against murder and adultery, He was not amending them to a higher standard. Instead He was bringing out their fullest meaning – something the Old Testament already did.” But this is a false argument. The Old Testament nowhere specifically teaches that anger is murder in the heart. Also note in the Old Testament, lust is a precursor to adultery (see Proverbs 6:25-26 and Ezekiel 23:11) but is not defined as adultery.

In Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:7-8, Jesus amended the divorce command found in the Law of Moses to a higher standard. Matthew 19:7-8 records: “They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’.”

In Matthew 19:7-8, we see the main reason for the lower standards contained in certain commands in the Law of Moses when compared to New Testament commandments. Believers living under the Law of Moses had relatively harder hearts. Born-again believers under the New Covenant have God-given softer hearts as Ezekiel 36:26 prophesied specifically about regenerated Jews: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

Beware of legalism! But also watch out for books and tapes which set up their authors as supposed “guardians of God’s grace” but which actually encourage the demonic spirit of lawlessness!

 

Other Mosaic Laws which were amended under the New Covenant

 

Here are three other examples of Mosaic Covenant commands which have been changed under the New Covenant:

 

1.          The first of these is the one relating to charging interest on money which is loaned to others. Deuteronomy 23:19-20 reveals that under the Mosaic Covenant, God permitted the Israelites to charge interest for money which was loaned to foreigners but not for money loaned to fellow Israelites: “You shall not charge interest to your brother – interest  on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest. To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.”

In Leviticus 25:35-38, God emphasized that no interest was ever to be taken on money or food given to the poor among the Israelites: “And if one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Take no usury or interest from him; but fear your God, that your brother may live with you. You shall not lend him your money for usury, nor lend him your food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.”

Exodus 22:25, Nehemiah 5:1-13, Psalm 15:5 and Ezekiel 18:8 also record how important these laws about charging interest were to God under the Mosaic Covenant.

But note in Luke 6:34-35 under the New Covenant, Jesus Christ taught His followers to even be willing to lend money to their enemies without asking for interest in return: “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”

Jesus Christ does not command New Covenant believers to never take interest for money deposited with wealthy banks and other financial institutions. But Christ did not limit our generosity to just loaning free of interest to Israelites or fellow believers. He commanded us to be generous also to our enemies in need.

2.          Under the Mosaic Covenant, God commanded in Deuteronomy 23:24-25 that the poor and needy in the nation of Israel were to be cared for partly by the following special way: “When you come into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes at your pleasure, but you shall not put any in your container. When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain.”

Matthew 12:1, Mark 2:23 and Luke 6:1 record that even in Christ’s time, His disciples obeyed this Mosaic Covenant command.

The New Testament clearly reveals that the Mosaic Covenant laws about clean and unclean foods, animal sacrifices, drink offerings, washings, annual feasts, the high priesthood, the Levitical priesthood and so on have been abolished through Jesus Christ under the New Covenant (see Acts 9:9-16, Colossians 2:16 and Hebrews 8:1-10:18). But note there is not one verse in the New Testament which specifically says that the commands of Deuteronomy 23:24-25 have been abolished.

So unless all of the commands of the Mosaic Covenant in their original context have been replaced by New Covenant commands, this means all New Covenant believers would have to allow any neighbour or stranger, who wishes to eat things out of their garden or from their fruit trees, to do this freely.

3.          In Deuteronomy 21:15-17, God makes a concession to the fact that if an Israelite husband had two wives, he may love one but not love the other. But God only made this concession under the Mosaic Covenant. Under the New Covenant, God insisted that born-again males have only one wife (see Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Timothy 3:2, 3:12 and Titus 1:6) and must love her (see Ephesians 5:25-33).

Under the Mosaic Covenant, God made a concession about divorce because of the hardness of human hearts (see Matthew 19:7-8). Similarly God probably made the concession in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 about a husband’s lack of love for one of his two wives because of the hardness of human hearts. Under the Mosaic Covenant, Israelite believers were not born-again of the Holy Spirit.

 

Some of God’s laws are everlasting but others change

 

One simplistic view of God’s commands and laws are that none of them change from covenant to covenant or period of salvation history from another.

It is true His two love laws are everlasting and apply in every covenant and time period. Also, His commands against sex outside marriage, rape, homosexuality, idolatry and worshipping false gods apply to all covenants and times in history. Genesis 19:1-29 records God revealed His hatred of homosexuality and rape prior to the writing of the Bible and the giving of the Mosaic and New Covenants. Genesis 35:2-4 and 39:7-9 show that even before the Bible was written and the Mosaic and New Covenants given, believers knew that idolatry, worshipping false gods and having sex outside of marriage were sins against God.

But note some of God’s laws change from covenant to covenant and salvation period to salvation period. Here are some examples:

 

         Under the Mosaic Covenant, God permitted divorce if the wife committed any act of sexual uncleanness or impurity (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Such sexual uncleanness was not adultery or sex before marriage. This was because under the Mosaic Covenant, those who committed the latter two sins were killed instead of being allowed to divorce (see Leviticus 20:10-12 and Deuteronomy 22:13-24). Under the New Covenant, the grounds for divorce were changed from what they were under the Mosaic Covenant (see Matthew 19:1-9).

         In the years initially after the Fall, brothers would have married their sisters. But later under the Mosaic and New Covenants, incest was not permitted (see Leviticus 18:9, Acts 15:20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5).

         Between the Fall up till the beginning of the Mosaic Covenant, God commanded believers like Noah and Abraham to make animal sacrifices (see Genesis 15:9-10). These sacrifices were not made by Levite priests at the Tabernacle or Temple. But under the Mosaic Covenant, God commanded animal sacrifices to be made only by Levite priests at the Tabernacle or Temple (see Leviticus 17:1-9). Under the New Covenant, believers do not have to offer any animal sacrifices to God at any place (see Hebrews 9:1-10:18).

         Concubines were female slaves who acted as secondary wives and surrogate mothers. Between the time of the Fall to the beginning of the Mosaic Covenant, God permitted believers like Abraham to have a concubine and Jacob to have two wives and two concubines (see Genesis 16:1-16 and 30:1-12). Under the Mosaic Covenant, God permitted that men could have two wives and an unspecified number of concubines (see Deuteronomy 21:15, Exodus 21:7-11 and Leviticus 19:20). [4]

But under the New Covenant, God commanded men to have only one wife (see Matthew 19:5, 1 Corinthians 7:2 and Ephesians 5:33 – these verses refer to having only one wife).

 

We do not merit salvation by obeying New Testament commands

 

In the Book of Galatians, Paul vigorously opposes legalism but then balances this out by speaking of believers fulfilling the Law of Christ (see Galatians 6:2).

The two general love commands or their more specific applications found in the New Testament are not a new form of “works of law” by which we try to earn or deserve receiving eternal life. In Galatians 3:21, Paul stated that it is impossible to merit receiving eternal life through obeying any type of laws: “Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”

But note God’s totally unmerited grace in Christ was meant to empower us to obey His New Testament commands (see Titus 2:11-14 and Hebrews 12:28).

Also, Jesus’ Words in John 14:15, 21 and 23 show true love for God expresses itself in obeying His commands. John 14:15 says: “If you love Me, keep My commandments”.

 

Key comments about God’s natural and moral laws

 

1 Corinthians 14:33 reveals that God is a God of order. If God had not created various natural laws, the universe would be in total chaos. Similarly, if He did not provide humans with moral laws about practical living, which all humans choose to follow to varying degrees, the world would be in an even worse state than what it is at present.

The world’s present problems with crime, drug-taking, drunkenness, family problems, divorce, child molesting, rape and venereal disease are a result of multitudes of people disobeying what God commands. A society which is lawless in relation to what God commands, will end up reaping the disastrous results of this.

If every angel and human followed only what they believed was right, there would be total anarchy. There would be constant bitter fighting between all individuals insisting on their own wills.

God’s laws are aimed at achieving the common good for all, not to fulfil the extreme selfishness of certain individuals, minorities or majorities. God does not agree with the philosophy of utilitarianism which unjustly favours majorities in nations. But also He does not support those modern philosophies which unjustly favour minority groups in various societies.

For the highest good for all, God demands all humans and angels voluntarily and unconditionally surrender their will to His will. This involves giving up independence and becoming dependent on Him. This also necessitates self-denial, with humans being told to seek God’s ways and will instead of their own.

God requires all humans to give up their self-will and to obey His perfect, just and loving will.

 

 

Bible Study Questions

 

1.       Throughout history and under various covenants, God’s laws and commandments have been expressed in a number of forms. What are these various forms?

2.       What were Paul’s attitudes to God’s commandments, rules and laws for New Covenant believers? How did Paul’s attitudes to these things differ from some modern teachers of lawlessness in the Church?

3.       List as many of God’s commandments for New Covenant believers as you can think of at present.

4.       Give examples of God’s laws which have changed from covenant to covenant and salvation period to salvation period.

5.        What are the aims of God’s New Covenant commands and laws and some of the results of not obeying them?


 


[1] In context, 1 Corinthians 7:19 can only refer to New Testament commandments. This is because circumcision is a commandment under the Old Covenant (see Leviticus 12:1-3). If in 1 Corinthians 7:19, Paul was saying we must obey all the Mosaic Covenant commandments, this would include circumcision. In 1 Corinthians 7:19, Paul contrasts the unimportance of circumcision to the importance of obeying God’s New Testament commands.

[2] Bauer, page 201.

[3] Taking the Lord’s Name in vain approximates blaspheming the Lord’s Name and lying when using the Lord’s Name. The Lord’s Name includes His character and reputation. So taking the Lord’s Name in vain includes speaking evil things of His character and reputation.

[4] Note Deuteronomy 17:17 commands the Israelite kings not to have many wives.

 

 


Copyright © 2002 - InternetBibleCollege.net
Individuals may take copies of these works for the purpose of studying the Bible provided that this copyright notice is attached to all copies.