Misdirected Zeal

Lesson 38: Romans 10:1-11

Misdirected Zeal

by Bob Burridge ©2011

People often take their religion very seriously. And why shouldn’t they? It’s a matter of eternity, and of their whole purpose in life.

People sometimes get excited about football games. They shout, jump around, paint their faces, or wear rubber cheese wedges on their heads. So we certainly should expect that some would have great zeal about issues of the soul.

A football game lasts just a short time and its over. Even a winning season is only for one year. But our eternal relationship with God is neither seasonal nor renegotiated now and then. A sports fan might feel a sense of deep loyalty to a school, or city, or to the team itself. How much more should be our fervent loyalty to our Creator! Some type of religious zeal is expected in all redeemed humans.

Of course not every football fan paints his face, wears strange hats, or waves a giant foam finger that says “We are number one”. People show their zeal in different ways according to their personalities. Religious zeal is that way too. Not all believers will express themselves in the same way, or be able to engage in the same types of service to our Redeemer. But in every true believer there is a zeal for Christ implanted into his heart by grace.

Not all religious zeal is good. James speaks of true Christianity as the “pure and undefiled religion” (James 1:27) This obviously stands in contrast with what Paul denounces as “self-imposed religion” (Colossians 2:23). Zeal for false religion both dishonors God and hurts those drawn along by irresponsible leaders.

In chapter 10 Paul continues the ideas he had just explained in Romans 9. The Jews had confused the outward form of God’s covenant with the reality it represented. Israel was chosen as God’s special covenant people to represent his election of some to salvation. However, they had come to think of themselves as better than the rest of the world. They looked down upon the Gentiles as less worthy. Some of them were behind the killing of the Messiah because he did not bring a message that specially exalted them as they expected.

God had not chosen the Israelites because of their special worth to begin with. He chose them who were unworthy so that he could demonstrate his attributes of undeserved mercy and grace. The Jews mistook God’s grace as if it was an earned reward. They imagined that their own efforts in keeping God’s law actually saved them. They thought that keeping the law sufficiently was still possible for fallen humans. She also thought that Israel was specially privileged eternally. Neither of these beliefs are consistent with what is revealed in Scripture.

Paul again makes his deep
concern for Israel very clear.

Romans 10:1, Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.

Paul was concerned about the Jews who were the outward representatives of God’s covenant. Theirs was a very special and important relationship. Tragically, their rebellion was confusing what God was demonstrating by choosing them. Paul warned them about the divine judgment from which they needed to be saved. He did not cater to their “felt needs” to win them over. He did not use focus groups to find out what they wanted to hear.
He boldly told them the dramatic truth about what God was about to do.
First, the Jews would no longer be outwardly blessed above all other nations. Second, God was about to redeem Gentiles into his church as equals in the Covenant Kingdom. By this it would be shown that effort and birthright are not the causes of redemption. It was a hard lesson, but a needed one.

Paul commended their zeal.

Romans 10:2, For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Though zeal can be a good thing, it doesn’t excuse the error their zeal was promoting. He already had made it clear that they needed to be saved. Zeal for the wrong things, no matter how sincere, is not a virtue. The value of zeal is in its object, not in its words, or actions. If God’s truth and glory are our goals, then our zeal in promoting those things is wonderful. But if the goal is something that obscures God’s truth or misdirects his glory then it is evil.

Many of the Jews at that time lived zealously by strict rules and rabbinic traditions. They fervently defended their religious heritage. They sometimes even gave their lives for the cause. But they were zealous for things contrary to what God had revealed as true and good.

Some tried to become righteous by
a way God said could never succeed.

Romans 10:3, For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.

Their zealous belief that effort could remove their guilt was a terrible error. We are righteous when we are innocent with respect to all that God’s holiness demands. As far back as those early days in Eden God made it clear that fallen man needed to have his righteousness provided by God. The same was proven throughout history to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and to Paul himself. Israel was missing that important point. She was seeking to establish her own righteousness by works, deeds, efforts, and an arrogant sense of privilege. This error produced human pride and bigotry. It redirected toward mere creatures, the glory due only to their Creator. In their blind self importance, they rejected and killed the Messiah himself. This was the final just cause that ended Israel’s place as the special Covenant People of God. It was time for what they prefigured to take place in the unfolding of history.

Jesus Christ is the center of the whole issue.

Romans 10:4, For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

But how is it that Christ is the “end of the law”? Did Jesus annul the law which God had given for all the ages past? Did he cancel the moral principles summarized in the 10 Commandments? Did he mean that now sin is not defined by God’s law anymore? Absolutely not!

Such an interpretation is contrary to the actual wording of this verse, and is absolutely impossible. Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”

The word for “to fulfill” is plaerisai (πληρωσαι). It means to bring something to its full measure. Jesus brought the law to the fullness of what it was meant to be all along. He did not abolish it by fulfilling it (as some say to excuse us from the law). Jesus was making a contrast — instead of abolishing or destroying, he was fulfilling.

Here in Romans 10:4 the word translated “end” is telos (τελος). It means the end product of something, the goal to which something aims.

Jesus brought the law to its fullness by his life and death. He lived to keep the law in our place so that we can be counted as righteous in him. He died to satisfy the demands of the law in our place. He redeems individuals to enable them understand his moral principles, to love the attitudes and actions that please their Creator, and to humbly strive by Christ’s power to keep his moral principles to the greatest extent possible.

He did not do away with what the law says is moral and good. The moral law shows what God defines as good. Certainly that eternal standard never changes. It is what marks out those redeemed as having been made holy. We are called to “be holy even as the Lord our God is Holy”.

The ceremonial laws of Old Israel showed that our sin deserves death. Certainly that is still true. The symbolic sacrifices of the Old Testament ceremonies foreshadowed Christ’s death. Once the final sacrifice for his people was completed on the Cross, the symbolic sacrifices would be out of place. However, what was required by divine justice remained. The sinner must die (Romans 6:23), or a perfect Redeemer must die in his place. The only way this justice could be satisfied is by a redeemer who was also the infinite God, the one who was offended. It must be a righteousness provided by God.

So, how then is Jesus the end of the law? Peter uses the same word to describe what Jesus did regarding our faith. 1 Peter 1:9, “… receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls.”

The word “end” is sometime translated here as “outcome”. It is the same word translated as “end” in Romans 10:4 [telos (τελος)] with regard to the law. Certainly Jesus did not abolish faith, destroy it, or put an end to it. He brought faith to its complete goal in our lives, just as he did with the law. He provides our ability to do what faith leads up to, to reach its goal, to produce its fruit. In the same way, what Christ provides in us is that toward which the law aims us.

On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) There Jesus used the same word again, telos (τελος). The verb form used there is tetelestai (τετελεσται) which carries the force of something “brought to its end, completed.” He accomplished, consummated, perfected the work he came to do. He did not annul or destroy all he had done. He brought it to its full end.

Jesus came to satisfy the demands of the law for his people, and to enable them to begin to live in a way that truly pleases God within the bounds of his moral principles revealed in the law. His children are only able to live those transformed lives by the Savior’s power at work in them.

That is why it says that Christ is the end of the law “for righteousness.” By the completed work of Jesus we are declared innocent of what God’s holiness forbids. The law shows us how much we need a Savior. It drives us to him in humble repentance. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:24, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”

The law never had the power to remove guilt, or to produce obedience and holiness. Only Jesus could do that. So he brought the law to its goal, to its intended end, by making his people righteous. The whole point of the work of Christ was to make righteousness in us a reality. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Then in Philippians 3:8-9 he wrote, “… that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.”

Paul tells us directly here that Jesus does not produce this righteousness in everyone. He came to secure it only in those who believe.

If left to keeping the law,
we would have no hope.

Romans 10:5, For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”

The Lord said through Moses in Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.”

Certainly, if it was possible for any man to keep the law as God demanded, he would live. He would enjoy life in its fullest both now and forever in God’s holy presence. But Moses also showed that such living is impossible after the fall of Adam. Our attempts reveal our sin and inability. They ought to drive us in repentance before God to plead for his mercy. This is why the sacrifices were needed. They pointed ahead to Christ. The law serves the purpose of exposing our lostness as our efforts fail, and it points us to Christ who alone is our righteousness.

Even one single sin would justly condemn a person forever. As Paul said in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” In Galatians 3:10 Paul again quotes the Old Testament saying, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”

The Jews had ignored the part of God’s word about their inability, and about the unmerited mercies of God. They had turned the sacrifices into acts of merit, instead of confessions of need. They imagined that by zealously living by law they could make themselves right with God. The fallacy of their error is that it is the exact opposite of what God tells us in Scripture. They were striving for what was unattainable. In that zeal they offended God, and harmed themselves.

There is a way by which
we can become righteous.

Romans 10:6-10, But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ” ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Paul bases these comments on another part of the writings of Moses. He uses the language of Deuteronomy 30 to show that our efforts are neither necessary nor helpful. They are not the cause of God’s mercies.

From Deuteronomy 30:12 he asks “Who will ascend into heaven?” Then Paul applies it to the fetching of the Messiah to come down to redeem us. Obviously he is demonstrating that no one needs to do this. No one would be able to do it.

Then he alludes to Deuteronomy 30:13 when he asks, “Who will descend into the abyss?” Again, applying this to fetching Christ, this time to bring him back from the dead. Once more it is obvious that this is impossible and unnecessary since it has been accomplished. It was not done by humans zealously securing for themselves what was needed. It was done by the grace of God alone through the provision of our Redeemer. Nothing remains for us to add, even if we could.

The righteousness which is based upon faith has a very different message. Paul then quotes from the next verse in that section of Deuteronomy 30. Verse 14 says, “But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

The salvation which is impossible for fallen man to seek and to obtain is already with us. It is the word of the Gospel which the Christians were spreading, the word of faith. Right after Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death, he added … “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)

No effort on our part is needed to move the hand of God. In fact such efforts deny grace which is the heart of the gospel itself. It is the hand of God that moves us. It is his work alone that redeems the unworthy completely apart from their own efforts.

The gospel is clearly imbedded in the law. It is the whole purpose of the law. The Good News is that God has done everything needed to redeem his people. He also infallibly brings about the change in each heart that brings his people to him through the work of Christ as Redeemer.

Romans 10:9 promises salvation to the person who confesses with his mouth the Lordship of Jesus. The word “confess” means to “agree with God about something”, “to admit that it is true.” The redeemed are those who admit that Jesus is Sovereign Lord over all. In him is all authority on heaven and on earth.

But confession that is of the mouth only is meaningless. So this statement is coupled with the next evidence of God’s work in us. We must believe in our hearts that Jesus was raised up from the dead as a work of God. The confession must reflect honest belief and trust. Jesus said in Matthew 12:34 “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

To say “I believe”, then to live as if what you professed is not really trusted, is offensive to God. It is nothing less than blatant hypocrisy. John Calvin explained that true belief is “… not a mere naked notion of the head.” Those who dare to confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ should seek to stand firmly upon that conviction even in uncomfortable situations, through persecutions, and in the midst of temptations.

The resurrection of Jesus was not in the primary act that redeemed us or pays for our sins. That was accomplished in full by our Savior’s suffering and death on the cross. The resurrection was the ultimate and comprehensive evidence that death, sin’s penalty, had been beaten. It showed that the dominion of sin and its curse from Eden was overcome. Rightly believing in the resurrection of Christ summarizes that the rest of the gospel is believed as well.

God’s promise cannot fail.

Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

Believers, will not be disappointed or put to shame. Paul is referencing the verse he used at the end of chapter 9. Isaiah 28:16, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily.”

There is a reason why Paul said believers will not be put to shame (or disappointed), while Isaiah says believers will not act hastily.

The word for “hastily” used by Isaiah is khush (חוש). It means to act quickly, to be hasty, or to be excited. The idea is that the one trusting in God’s promises will not hurry away as if fleeing in shame or disgrace. There will be no panicked retreat since they trust in God’s faithfulness.

When the Hebrew text of Isaiah was translated into Greek a couple hundred years before the New Testament was written, the word khush in Isaiah 9:16 was translated by the Greek word kataischuno (καταισχυνω), which means to be disappointed, or to be put to shame. That is why Paul used that Greek word in Romans 9:11.

The connection isn’t as obscure as it might seem at first. In God’s covenant in Deuteronomy 28 God warned Israel of all the curses he would pour out on them in the time when they would rebel against him. In verse 37 he warned particularly, “And you shall become an astonishment, a proverb, and a byword among all nations where the LORD will drive you.”

When Israel is finally rejected and the curses fall, the unbelieving nations will mock her saying, “where is her God?” The apostate Jewish nation will flee in shame. This is where the ideas of “shame” and “moving in haste” come together. Those who put their trust in God’s true promise in Christ will not have to be ashamed or flee in haste like those who receive God’s judgments. Shame follows apostasy. All those who by faith embrace Christ as their only true hope, will not be disappointed, or ashamed. They will be blessed and comforted by God in the judgment.

This is great news!
It is comforting and assuring.

Our salvation is not teetering upon our own ability to bring it about. Never be drawn away by the zeal of those who promote a different gospel than the one Paul has described here. Salvation is a free gift of God completely paid for by the work of Jesus Christ. There is nothing left undone that you must do to earn it. You cannot keep God’s law as a way to be made right with God. You cannot earn forgiveness simply by saying a right prayer or by making a personal decision. Those are good things to do. But the good you do is done because God has rescued you, not so that he will do so. You obey because God loved you eternally and transformed you through Christ. Obedience is not a formula to bring down God’s love.

Just as ancient Israel misrepresented God’s covenant to the world, so also the majority of those calling themselves Christians today present a warped message. The zeal of the theological liberals, of the cults, and of those who deny our total inability to earn God’s blessing by our own works, is the same futile effort that it was with Israel in the time of Jesus and Paul.

Those who blindly hold to those views are to be humbly pitied, and earnestly prayed for with sincere compassion. But they are not to be accommodated as if their zeal were a good thing in itself, and made up for changing the revealed truth of God. Satan too is zealous for his agenda, as are all his followers.

Paul displayed a right kind of zeal. He had compassion and concern, but without compromise of God’s truth. He told them the hard things because he cared for them. In the same way, we need to call neighbors, friends, and family to the truth of the gospel of Christ. It only offends those who will not turn and believe. But in those called of God, regenerating grace will produce righteousness in Christ and life eternal.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

God’s Good Law

Lesson 23: Romans 7:1-12

God’s law is not appreciated by fallen man.

The corrupted moral nature we inherit from Adam makes us long to be free from moral obligations, and free from our feelings of guilt.

Some who abhor the idea of answering to some higher authority than their own desires make fun of the moral laws of Scripture. They ridicule the God of the Bible. They believe they are naturally smarter than believers because of what they see as superior assumptions about the way things are and came to be. By convincing themselves that they are more intelligent, they dismiss the moral principles they dislike.

When they get caught breaking a law, they point out how many others have violated it too as if that should excuse them. They might cite special circumstances that exempt them from compliance, or they put the blame on others implying that they were the ones who instigated them and got them in trouble. Shifting blame, and excusing immoral behavior are tactics as old as the Garden of Eden.

This is how the Bible describes the spiritually dead heart. The lost find it hard to show real respect for the law that condemns him. Today we hear a lot about the decline of the “rule of law” in our world. Even the unbeliever can see to a certain degree that a relativistic view of ethics does not work. When humans replace God’s absolute standard with his own attempts to adjust morality to fit varying situations, it creates divisions and anger among people with no foundation for settling differences or ensuring a safe society.

Even some who call themselves “Christians” look for ways to explain away God’s law. Some quote verses taken out of their context to imply that the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the principle of Grace have eliminated God’s moral principles. They use an unbiblical concept of what they call “love” as if it now replaces the commandments of God. Many treat biblical law as if it was just a Jewish concept with little importance to us today. They see it as the opposite of the gospel message. On the extreme there are those who claim that being a Christian is just a change of belief which involves no change of life.

From what they say, you would think they believe God made a mistake by giving his law, and in time he came to regret it. Hopefully no one would go that far. Such a concept makes God an error-prone deity who has to learn by his mistakes. This would be nothing less than horrible blasphemy.

These desperate attempts to escape our obligation to God’s commandments are tragic. They cannot be supported with Scripture taken in its true context. Those who are taken in by them live with an obscured view of God and of how his world works.

Romans 7 helps us understand the continuing
value for God’s law when it is rightly understood.

To explain this important benefit Paul takes us through a few steps. He wants us to understand that though God’s law is not and never has been a way to life, it is and always must be the way of life.

There is a sense in which believers are released from God’s law. Paul had been telling the Roman Christians about being set free from the mastery of sin. In Romans 6:14 he wrote, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” In Romans 7 he is dealing with some clarifying issues.

First Paul clarifies a general legal principle:

Romans 7:1, “Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?”

The word translated as “dominion” by this translation is rendered by others with the word “jurisdiction”. The word in the original text is related to the word kurios (κυριος) which is usually translated as “lord”. It carries the idea of authority. In the legal sense, it is the jurisdiction a court has over citizens in its district.

Death releases a person from legal relationships. Law is only designed in its most general sense to deal with the living. The greatest penalty law can impose is execution. If a person is already dead, then the law’s harshest demand has already been met.

Paul then gave an illustration no one would disagree with who knows the Bible.

Romans 7:2-3, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.”

1. According to God’s law Marriage is a bond for life.
Marriage is introduced in Genesis 2 where Adam and Eve are said to have become “one flesh”. The union of two into one flesh is to last as long as the two live. Death is the only moral means of ending a marriage in God’s sight. It cannot be ended by simply declaring it over. God is said in Malachi 2:16 to be abhorred by divorce. This is why in the traditional marriage vow we promise before God, “till death us do part.”

If the woman has another man while her spouse is alive, she is called an “adulteress.” The Bible demanded the execution of anyone who violated marriage by sexual infidelity. Since infidelity caused the execution of one partner, the marriage was ended by death. The innocent party was no longer bound because the condition of the vow had been met, “till death us do part.”

In the teachings of Jesus we see that in a society where execution is not practiced for adultery, a divorce of the innocent spouse is permitted (Matthew 19:9). It is as if the offender was put to death as God demands.

2. When death ends one legal relationship, it makes way for a new relationship.
If a spouse is dead, the living partner is free to be joined to another. Once the conditions of a legal bond are met, the bond is no longer in effect. Only then can a new bond be acceptable.

Paul used this principle, to explain the
bondage of our soul by the law of God.

Romans 7:4-6, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another — to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.”

It can get a little confusing in this section if we fail to follow the flow of thought. Paul is trying to explain a complex idea. To make his point he sometimes speaks of bondage in one sense, and at other times in another. In one sense the sinner is bound to sin, in another it is the law that binds him.

This bondage was explained in detail in the first few chapters of Romans. Adam represented all humans. When he sinned, his guilt and corruption passed on to all his natural descendents. Everyone since Adam is separated from God and is called “spiritually dead.” This “spiritual death” makes them unable to do anything truly good in God’s eyes (Romans 3:10-12). They take God’s glory for themselves. They do what is forbidden. They neglect what is commanded. God’s law both reveals the crime, and demands the sentence. The result is eternal separation from God. That is how the law binds the sinner to sin as his master.

Only by fulfilling the demand of the law can anyone be released from its sentence. God’s justice demands eternal suffering and death, since all have sinned. The suffering and death of Jesus in the sinner’s place releases him from his bondage to sin. Christ satisfies the law’s legal demands, so the person represented is “delivered from the law” in that sense.

Verse 5 shows that our bondage to sin is exposed by our unlawful behavior. Sin is more than just guilt inherited from Adam. It is also a fallen disposition. The corrupted nature puts self ahead of God. It influences the motives that lay behind what may appear to us to be good deeds. When people sin they reveal their sinful passions. They look for perverted ways too satisfy human needs. The law is what defines and exposes sin. It is what condemns the person to the just punishment of death.

Since it is the inner work of new life that sets the sinner free from death by Christ, he is not only released from the old master, he is at the same time joined to a new master. The new lord is righteousness. It both declares the sinner to be innocent by the righteousness of Christ which is credited to him, and it enables him to do what is truly good. The good he does is rendered possible by his restored fellowship with God in Christ.

Verse 6 shows that through the death of Jesus we are set free from our former bondage. The Savior met the demand of death for his people. Instead of the foolish and vain hope of being saved by keeping the outward letter of the law, the redeemed person comes to understand that nothing he can do will remove his guilt. When the Holy Spirit applies Christ’s work he learns that his guilt has been fully removed by Jesus as his Substitute. He is made able to do what is truly good, and is bound to a new master altogether.

Though the Holy Spirit is clearly at work in the application of the work of the Messiah, many translators do not capitalize the word “spirit” in verse 6 (KJV, ASV for example). They see the contrast in the last part of this verse as between the words “letter” and “spirit.” The “letter” [grammatos (γράμματος)] is the law, the written expression of the spiritual [pneumatos (πνεύματος)] reality behind it which is fulfilled in the now finished atoning work of Christ.

The main point in this passage is that we are released from one bondage to be joined to another. Just as the fallen human is exposed by God’s law as a sinner, the law also lays out the kind of behavior that ought to be seen in the Christian. We are set free from sin to be bound to righteousness. Moral and godly living is the goal. The moral principles of God’s law remain binding, but not in the sense of condemnation of or dominion over the redeemed sinner. It is not the law that is put to death. It is our old relationship to it. That was the message Jesus was conveying in Matthew 5:17.

The law of God must be treasured, not despised.

Romans 7:7-11, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”

Some might foolishly reason this way. If the law is what obligates us to a standard we cannot obey, and it condemns us inescapably, then is the law an evil thing? Is the law sin? That is the reasoning of the fallen heart. It wants to find fault with the judgments of God’s law.

Paul adds his answer immediately with an emphatic, “No!” Do not let such an idea even be considered! The opposite is true. The law has a very good and important purpose in God’s plan.

The revealed moral law of God exposes sin for what it is in our lives. Paul uses the 10th commandment, “You shall not covet,” to prove his point. It is not just the outward act that makes a thing sinful. It is also the inward greed and coveting that is in itself sinful. We would not know that even our motives and attitudes can condemn us if God had not revealed it to us. It was by God’s law that Paul learned about his corrupt nature and his need for redeeming grace.

Paul was a Pharisee before he was regenerated by grace. He imagined that he was good in God’s sight, spiritually alive, and had done nothing seriously wrong. When the Holy Spirit made him realize the inner truth of the 10th commandment, he realized that where he once saw life, there was really death.

Paul’s experience is like that of everyone else. The sinner is blinded and prejudiced against true justice. He finds fault in the system, in his circumstances, or in others, but not ultimately in himself. He adds up all the good he believes he has done, and imagines that it must count for something in God’s estimation. He fails to see that even his good deeds flow from a corrupt nature. He steals God’s glory and is discontent with God’s provisions. As the Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…”

God has given us his law. He graciously sends his Holy Spirit to apply the life-giving work of Christ. By these works of grace we are informed, convinced, and humbled before a Holy God. The law by which Paul thought he could earn God’s blessing, actually condemned him. It drove him to repentance and faith in his only hope, the Redeemer Jesus Christ.

By the new knowledge and life implanted in him, the law became a blessing not a curse. What he once imagined as his way to life, that way which frustrated him, became the rule of life, by which he could show God how much he loved him.

God’s law, therefore, is a good thing!

Paul concludes this section in verse 12.

Romans 7:12, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”

Being released from the law’s condemnation, Paul learned that his freedom meant being bound to another master, righteousness. The law had served its good purpose, and now had become his guide to living thankfully.

So many today claim that Jesus said that God’s law is now replaced by love. To that we answer, “No!” To use Paul’s expression, “Let it not be!” One of the most tragic of modern deceptions is that Christ ended the moral law of God. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

Later Jesus was asked which is the great commandment in the Law? Far from putting down the law, Jesus quoted from the law! First he quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5, which comes right after the listing of the 10 Commandments. In Matthew 22:37-38 he said, “… ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

Then Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18. In Matthew 22:39 he said, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

After that, Jesus explained that these two words of the law are a summary of the whole of the law. In Matthew 22:40 he said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Jesus saw the principle of love imbedded in the law. The law of God defines what love is all about. He used love as a summary of the law, not as a replacement of it.

Psalm 119 tells us that believers learn to love the law of God. The law is not a mean principle. It is one that is graciously given for our benefit. It shows us the high moral nature of our Creator. It convicts us of our depravity. It exposes what a great debt we owe to our Savior, and helps us appreciate the amazing love with which he loves his people.

Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Psalm 119:165, “Great peace have those who love Your law …”
Psalm 119:174, “… Your law is my delight.”

Now that we are set free from the old master, we are bound to the new one. The law no longer condemns us or dominates over us as those who remain under the slavery of sin.

The law now guides us as to how those redeemed by grace are to live for God’s glory. Therefore the Christian must keep the moral law of God in the very center of his thoughts. The law gives content to the wisdom presented in verses like Philippians 4:8. Without God’s moral revelations in his law, the terms there would remain undefined.

The Christian walk is not marked out by an attitude of self-pride, or moral arrogance. It is marked by humble obedience. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That saying of Jesus was taken from the Old Testament law also. Five times in the books of Moses God identifies his people as those who love him and keep his commandments.

What once seemed a demanding and condemning set of rules, becomes a welcomed teacher. We use God’s law in evangelism. It is the tool God gives us for convincing the suffering and lost of their need for a Savior. We use God’s law as a guide for society. By it we know what will bring God’s blessing upon a nation and community. We use God’s law as a rule of life. By it we can know how to honor our God, and show him our sincere thankfulness for his grace.

Learn the commandments of God. Teach them to your children. Talk about them in your home. Bring them up in daily conversation. Use them to help the discouraged and depressed of heart diagnose the real cause of their misery. Use them to counsel your friends in Christ as they make decisions. List the promises and benefits of the Law laid out in Psalm 119. Do all you can to treasure and benefit rightly from the wonderful gift of God’s law.

by Bob Burridge ©2011

(The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Faithful to the One True God

Faithful to the One True God

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:45-48)
[watch the watch the video]
by Bob Burridge ©2011

The first of the Ten Commandments is found in Exodus 20:3. It says, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It seems like an easy place to begin this list of moral principles. Most people believe this is not a very hard rule to live by.

In most cultures in our world today people are quite content to have just one god. We are not like the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians who had temples to different god’s throughout their cities. Having multiple gods is not very popular in our western world in the 21st Century.

However, this commandment is not about having just one god. It is about the exclusive worshiping, honoring, and obeying the One Creator of the universe. That makes it more of a challenge.

The commandment sums up a basic moral principle embedded in Creation itself. Nothing should rule our lives, or become the center of our attention other than, or along with, the Creator who made us and everything else. He ought to be the center of our marriages, home life, work, social relationships, governments, and the focus of our formal times of worship.

It is easy to let our interest in entertainment, sports, money, business, romance, popularity, or power trick us into putting them above or equal with God as the focus of our lives.

Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 45. Which is the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment is, Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Very literally, the words and word order of this commandment in Hebrew is: “Not – you shall have to yourself – gods – other – unto my face.” (לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃)

The commandment uses the general word for God.

The Hebrew word for “God” used by Moses in this commandment is Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים). It was used to make reference to all the pagan gods, as well as the True God who made us.

The New Testament uses the common Greek word for God (Theos, Ɵεος ). It also is used broadly, not only for the True God, but also for other interests that take his place. In Philippians 3:19 it describes those who have other things as “gods” in their lives. It says of them, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.”

The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint translation of this first commandment, the translation of the Old Testament used in the time of Jesus.

The word “gods” here means all those considered to have supernatural powers, and those things treated as most important in our lives. It includes anything that motivates us the most.

The word “other” shows that what is being forbidden stands in contrast with Jehovah, the one making these demands of his people. No other being, thing, or idea should be what primarily motivates you.

Westminster Shorter Catechism,
Question 46. What is required in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God, to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.
Question 47. What is forbidden in the first commandment?
Answer. The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying the true God, as God, and our God; and the giving that worship and glory to any other which is due to him alone.
Question 48. What are we specially taught by these words, “before me,” in the first commandment?
Answer. These words. “before me,” in the first commandment, teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God.

The foundation for this moral principle
is the eternal character of God.

He is the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He designed you to promote his glory during your life here on earth. By his Sovereign Providence he rules over everything that happens. As a creature made in his image you have a special obligation to be God-centered.

At Athens Paul explained how God’s creation and care for us both obligate us to him.
Acts 17:25 “… He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”
Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and have our being …”

It is the great deception of our fallen world that above all else we should live to have easier lives here on earth. Ever since Eden we tend to be self-centered, or at least human-centered in our thinking.

Our lives get wrapped up in getting things to make our lives easier and to feel successful. However, the ease we tend to look for, is to avoid work, and to do things for our own pleasure. The feeling of success is often measured by the standards of a materialistic world. But we were not created to be human-centered. We were put here to be God-centered.

Our labor is not primarily to get provisions and pleasures. It is above all else to be done for the sake of God’s honor, and for the promotion of his Kingship. It is toward that end that we work to get our daily provisions. That is the way God made things to be.

Work is not something we should dream of avoiding. It is something we do to be part of how God’s world is designed to operate. We grow foods, raise livestock, make and fix things, teach and give counsel, worship, raise children, help those who have special needs, and maintain civil order.

In everything we do, from fixing plumbing to repairing brain injuries, we are here to do it to show the wonder of God who made and rules over everything. Therefore we should strive for excellence in what we do. We should provide the best products and best services for our bosses, customers, and fellow-workers.

Though our work always involves someone else: managers, business owners, or customers, we should not just have pleasing them in mind. Primarily, we should do our very best for the honor of our God.

The economic system in the time of the New Testament included an employment system. If you did not make or grow things to sell, or provide a service yourself, you would come under a contract to work for someone else. As someone bonded over to them for pay, you had a responsibility to the one paying you.

Ephesians 6:5-7 says, “Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men,”

At creation we were made to be overseers of God’s creation, to manage it as representatives the Creator. Our work and what we earn by doing it should not become gods to us. Our labor should never become the main focus of our lives. We need to keep God’s glory at the center of the work we do.

Our marriages and families are for God’s glory. These relationships are not here for our physical pleasures, romance, or social success. God created us as male and female, and ordained marriage as part of the display of his glory. Families are designed to show the relationship of our Faithful Savior with his people. Our home life has that divine purpose.

In our homes and families we should show God’s love, mercy, patience, forgiveness, and so on. We should pass these values and virtues on to our children by faithfully training them. We should equip them to declare, defend, and perpetuate the Covenant our Savior made with us by his Grace.

Ephesians 5 explains this important purpose in our home lives. Notice how every relationship is designed to display something about God in his world. There in verses 22-25 it says, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,”

The family should show the relationship of our Faithful and Loving Savior with us as his people. Verses 30-32 of Ephesians 5 says, “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”

The family, as crucially important as it is, should never become as important as what it was made to represent of our Creator. In Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

If our families become an equal motivator with God in our lives, we break this first commandment. With distorted values like that, we teach our children that our home and success in this world can justify wrong choices. To satisfy family or romantic desires they might attend a church for the wrong reasons. They might look for jobs where they compromise God’s ways to get a better house or car. The best lesson we can teach our children, the best example we can be to our spouses, is to help them put God’s ways first. Only then can a family or marriage be truly blessed.

Our governments are to teach about God’s watchful care for us. God rules to keep order in his universe as his plan is painted on the time line of history. Our civil leaders are not here primarily to give us freedom and security. Those duties are means to the greater end.

In our communities God ordained that we should have human governments to reflect his care. Our leaders and those who work for them are here for that purpose. They are to protect us against crime, fraud, and vandalism. They are to defend us against foreign aggressors who want to take what is ours, or to keep us from being free to openly obey God in our lives. They are also to punish those who break the law so that the principle of justice is upheld. This is one of God’s attributes. It should all be done not for mere peace and prosperity, but for the glory of the One True God.

In Romans 13:1-5 Paul reminds us of the authority God gives to those in our civil governments, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.”

This means that we should not just obey civil laws to avoid punishment. We should do it out of respect for what God set up governments to represent. We obey as if we were obeying God himself, because rightful governments are his servants. They are here to enforce God’s civil rights and wrongs.

As citizens we should obey them, pray for them, stay well informed, and vote responsibly. We should do it all with God’s glory in mind as we support the way he set things up to be. If our laws violate God’s principles for whatever seems good to us, we have made our laws into an idol that violates this First Commandment.

Our social interactions are not just so we have friends to do fun things with our free time. They are to provide opportunities for us to encourage one another in living as a community centered on God’s glory and preeminence.

Ephesians 2:19 shows how our friendships and fellowship demonstrate God’s Kingdom. When we help our friends we advance God’s plan to show how he unites us as his household. “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”

Chapter 5 of Ephesians shows how we are to reflect God’s love by showing love for one another. Verses 1-2 say, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

Our friendships are not just for our own benefit or even just for that of our friends. They are supposed to be ways of demonstrating God’s care for us. It is another of the ways we honor the one true God. If we compromise any of God’s ways to make or to improve human friendships, we make those relationships rise to the level of God in our lives, and we violate this first principle of God’s Moral Law.

Our churches are gatherings of redeemed believers to serve Christ and to care for one another. They are not simply to provide social opportunities, or religious entertainment. If worship or the life of the church fails to be what God ordained it to be, then it replaces the purpose for which God ordained it. It becomes a cult, a false god in our lives. It violates this First Commandment.

It was the very religious who most persecuted Jesus during his life. Their religion was guided by wrong teachings, and by what was popular, not by what God said it should be.

A God-Centered attitude is exactly what this commandment is about. Each of these obligations is a necessary part of human life ever since God created us, but we are all obligated to honor the Creator in these relationships above everything else that might motivate us. All creatures owe their lives to the one who created them, and to him alone.

Aside from creation, there is another reason
to honor the One True God alone.

He not only created us, as believes in Christ he redeemed us by his Covenant of Grace. God deserves to be the main motive in your life, because he gave you new life in Christ.

Since your life comes from him, your life is his. It is not really just yours. The Heidelberg Catechism asks, “What is your only comfort in life and death?”

Its answer is, “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”

Nothings else redeems you, and deserves your unrestrained devotion. To take your time, resources and abilities, and to use them in ways that keep you from worship, tithing, obeying and loving, is theft of what God entrusted to you as a stewardship. It would violate this first moral principle.

This is not just a negative commandment.

Failing to honor the true God in the way he deserves also reduces him to the level of everything else. It elevates the rest of your world to the same level as the way you treat God. If God is just one part of your life, you are not obeying the main point of this first Commandment. God must be actively honored, worshiped and loved.

When apathy sets in you miss out on what gives meaning and real joy to everything else. Your work, family, friends, country, and church become truly satisfying only when they center on honoring your Creator and Redeemer in them. You should strive to find ways of promoting God’s unique glory in every responsibility and opportunity in your life.

The emptiness people often feel in their lives is because the center is all wrong. If your personal peace, prosperity or pleasures are what motivate you, you have displaced God to at best a secondary role.

The more you become aware of his constant presence and infinite power surrounding you, and remember the amazing grace that rescued you, the more everything else takes on a beauty beyond your expectations. Even discouragements and disappointments cannot derail you or depress you when you see God’s loving and wise plan at work in every part of your life.

Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, the words of God’s law, when he said in Matthew 22:37-38, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.”

That is the key, the thing that arranges everything else into it’s right place in your life. Psalm 16:11 makes this promise, ” … In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Aware of Our Firm Foundation

Aware of Our Firm Foundation

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 41-44)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

God’s creation is beautiful, vast, and amazingly complex.

Our Creator’s nature and glory are infinite and eternal. The immensity of his power and purpose is stamped upon everything he made. As Psalm 19:1-2 tells us, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.”

We were created with the ability to observe and to be a part of that declaration of God’s glory. There is a lot to take in, so much to understand.

Knowing our limitations as finite creatures, God made to be able to group things together, and to sum up complicated ideas. Our ears take in sounds people make, and our brains are able to organize them into words that make us able to communicate. We can see marks people make on paper, then turn them back into sentences. We learn to recognize people from a quick glance at their facial features. We have learned how to teach and to remember the flow of history, the findings of science, and relationships in mathematics. We summarize what we learn with charts, diagrams, and generalized rules.

After long conversations people often have to ask, “What’s your point?” When we have read all the details in business contracts we often ask, “So what’s the bottom line?” Parents often teach simple rules to children like, “Don’t talk with strangers,” “Ask permission before you go somewhere,” “Bed time is at 9:00,” “Eat your vegetables.”

Without going into all the reasons behind them, simple rules help us. We need to simplify things to be able to make fast judgments and daily decisions.

God also summarizes the things he reveals
so we can remember and handle them better.

There are parts of the Bible that summarize the long history of God’s people. Our main duties and God’s grace are summarized in simple verses we can learn. His redemption is summarized in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

Our obligations to our Creator/Redeemer are summarized in Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

These summaries are not meant to be exhaustive. They are given to us to point out main principles to help us organize God’s truth and to remember what he teaches us.

It is reasonable to expect the moral principles God
built into His world would be summarized too.

Question 41 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “Wherein is the moral law summarily comprehended?”

Answer: “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments.”

God made himself known by giving us his word in the Bible. His basic moral principles are summed up in the 10 Commandments.

When asked, Jesus summed up the moral law even more concisely in Matthew 22:37-40. There he gave us two general principles that sum up what is right: ” ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

The Answer to Question 42 of our Catechism quotes this comment by Jesus. It says,

“The sum of the ten commandments is, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.”

The Bible regularly links love and obedience. We were created to live morally, doing the things that show respect to our Creator. When we live that way, intent on truly honoring God and helping the people around us, we are being loving and therefore are keeping his commandments inwardly as well as outwardly.

Love for God and others is expressed by keeping his moral commandments. In the commandments God defines what things are loving.

This connection was made by Jesus many times in his ministry. For example, the Gospel of John records some of his direct comments about this.

John 14:21, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…”
John 15:12, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
John 15:14, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
John 15:17, “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Then in 1 John 5:2-3 the Bible says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.”

Love does not mean much if we do not show it by our attitudes, thoughts, and actions. John 13:35 says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God’s summation of his moral principles help us remember and obey what honors him. It is how we fulfill what we were created and commissioned to be. It is how we love. It is what real “love” looks like.

This summation by Jesus fits exactly with the order of the Commandments God gave through Moses.

The Ten Commandments divide into these two main sections.

The first section is about our loving God above everything else. When Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” he was quoting from the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:5.

This sums up the first 4 commandments. It is always wrong to worship other gods, to make images of God who is pure spirit, to use God’s name without respect, or to forget honoring the Creator’s work on the Sabbath. These first 4 Commandments show us who God is, and how we should worship and live for him.

As the second great commandment, Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Again he was quoting the words of Moses, this time from Leviticus 19:18. We must love our neighbor as we already look out for ourselves.

This sums up the last 6 Commandments. It is never right to show disrespect to those God puts in authority over us, or to murder. No one should be unfaithful in marriage, steal, lie, or covet. These last 6 Commandments show how God designed us to live together.

Moral law is the way things ought to be in a place created by the one True God. They show that we submit to his lordship as our Creator and King, and they teach us how to live lovingly with those God puts around us in our lives.

God’s moral principles are not just baseless rules.
They are founded upon the fact of God.

God introduced his commandments through Moses by explaining his right to issue commandments. Question 43 of the Catechism asks, “What is the preface to the ten commandments?”

The answer simply quotes from Deuteronomy 5:6. This verse leads into the giving of the Ten Commandments. It says, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

The preface leads into these moral principles by laying out the foundation for them. Israel was a defeated nation of oppressed slaves in Egypt. There was no hope for them by any efforts they could make on their own. Since God delivered her, and gave her back her nationhood, he alone had the right to say how she should live as a nation.

However, there was more. God was the Creator. He made all things for his own glory, so he alone knew what would honor that glory in a moral way. He also made the promise of a Redeemer, a Messiah who would die for the guilt of his people. Since all deserve eternal bondage to sin and unending separation from their Creator, only he could describe what freedom from sin and fellowship with God would be like.

Just as Israel owed her life to God alone, we all owe ours to him also. He created us to promote his glory, and redeemed us to be his children forever, therefore only he has the right to say what he made and redeemed us to be. That lays out the preface and foundation to this summation of God’s Moral Law.

When I worked in a commercial laundry the employees often complained. We worked hard under rough conditions. They would see the managers in air-conditioned offices and often asked, “who do they think they are to tell us how to do our job?” But, they owed their jobs to the owners and managers. It was what went on in that office that enabled them to earn their living.

Similarly, we owe our lives and salvation to God alone. He is the only one who has the right to describe our purpose and what is right.

In Romans 9:20 Paul put it this way, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ”

Catechism question 44 explains the reason for this preface to the Commandments. It says,

Answer. “The preface to the ten commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments.”

That is how important these commandments are. They were not first given to Israel. They were summarized for Israel. Every moral law in them goes back to creation itself. They show us how we can show our love for our Creator, our Redeemer.

Do you say you love Jesus Christ dearly?

Do you do what he says and live morally as God describes it for you? That is what it is to love God. Do you treat those you meet and work with the way our Creator says you should? That is what loving your neighbor is about.

Satan is subtle and knows how to play to our imperfect nature. He will suggest that such moral ideas have exceptions, and do not always apply. Like Israel in the wilderness we are easily persuaded to set these principles aside, and to take on the standards people accept in our fallen culture.

Since God created us, gives us life day by day, redeemed us, and blesses us, he alone has the absolute right to tell us how he made us to live.

It is not only unwise, but evil, to fail to see this important foundation to all that is right. We need to read these Ten Commandments with the prayerful intent of conforming our lives to them.

In each one, as we peel away the deceptions that hide the moral principle behind it, we see how short we fall in bringing glory to our God. We also see how much our Savior suffered as he took on our guilt. We see a loving light shining on an otherwise dark and confusing path.

God shows us how to be better children in his family. These summary principles teach us to see Grace at work in our otherwise disobedient hearts. They are not laws by which we merit salvation or blessings. We imperfect creatures could never keep them without God’s Redeeming Grace. They light up the unseen opportunities that would otherwise be hidden in the dark. They teach us what glorifies God, and how we enjoy living as his loved children.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Profitable Obedience

Profitable Obedience

(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q: 39-40)
(watch our video)
by Bob Burridge ©2011

Even before sin came into human hearts,
we had a purpose.

God created us to live for his glory and to enjoy doing so forever. That’s how our Westminster Shorter Catechism begins.

Sin did not change that purpose, but it separated us all from fellowship with God. It made us unable to be all we were made to be. In our frustrating fallen condition we cannot do anything truly good in the eyes of God, therefore we lost all hope of true joy forever.

For us to fulfill that purpose again, God sent the Messiah to redeem and to restore his people. This redemption is purely by grace. It clothes the unworthy with perfect righteousness, and enables them to joyfully glorify God.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us what the Bible principally teaches. In Question 3 it organizes it all into two major categories. It asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?” The profound answer is, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.”

These are the main things God tells us about in his word. What we believe about God and about who we really are effects how we put things into practice in our everyday lives. Belief and duty need to stay together. They can never really ever be separated. You have to know what to do, and you must put into practice what you know.

The first part of the Catechism, questions 4-38, are about what we ought to believe concerning God. This next section is about how we go about the duties he gives us to do.

God requires us to obey his revealed will.

Question 39 introduces this next part of the Catechism. It asks, “What is the duty which God requireth of man?” This is the answer:

“The duty which God requireth of man is obedience to his revealed will.”

We often hear people worry about being “out of the will of God”. They fret over every decision and circumstance thinking they might mess up God’s plan. The confusing part is that God does not tell us all that he planed to do. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us that much of God’s plan is kept secret from us. It says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

We cannot know how all things work together to fulfill his purposes. However, his word does tell us to focus on the things he has made known. That is our duty.

God’s decrees are unchangeable. Nobody can ever make a choice or do anything that makes God deviate from his eternal plan. Nothing can frustrate that eternal will of God.

This the consistent teaching all through Scripture. It could not be more clear.

Job 42:2 “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”

Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places.”

Even the wicked things people do are part of how his plan works out. It does not excuse their evil, but evil cannot operate independently from God’s decrees.

When Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him and to sell him into slavery, Genesis 45:7-8 says, “And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”

In Genesis 50:20 Joseph explained this to his wicked brothers. He said, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

This is not an isolated text. It is the pervasive center of all Scripture. Psalm 76:10 says, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.”

God employs men’s sins for his ultimate glory. However, sin is never condoned, and remains contrary to the moral principles God reveals.

The things he calls us to do are the things we need to be concerned about:. He reveals what is right for us to do. When that is violated, it is called “sin.” While we can never change God’s eternal plan, his decreed will. We can and do at times violate this revealed will of God.

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul reminded Timothy how we know God’s will for our lives: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This means that all of the Bible is God’s word, and therefore is profitable for these 4 duties:

1. It is profitable for teaching: It offers us a complete curriculum of all God wants us to know. There he tells us about himself and about how everything else relates to him.

Psalm 119 illustrates how God’s word is our teacher. Verse 24 says, “Your testimonies also are my delight And my counselors.” Verses 98-99 say, “You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation.”

2. It is profitable for reproof: The Bible warns about errors and shows us the truth which exposes them. There is no other standard against which what we learn can be compared.

Psalm 119:21 says, “You rebuke the proud — the cursed, Who stray from Your commandments.”

3. It is profitable for correction: Once error is exposed, the proper path needs to be found. Only the Bible as God’s word can show a person that right path.

This is also well summarized throughout Psalm 119.

9 “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.”
11 “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.”
30 “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me.”
105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”

4. It is profitable for training in righteousness: Righteousness is when we live according to the things that please God. Deuteronomy 6:25 defines righteousness as obedience to God’s revealed will. It says, “Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe all these commandments before the LORD our God, as He has commanded us.”

Biblically, righteousness means innocence before God’s law. There is no other standard than God’s own word for knowing what pleases him.

Again we turn to Psalm 119:

40 “Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me in Your righteousness.”
116 “Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; And do not let me be ashamed of my hope.”
117 “Hold me up, and I shall be safe, And I shall observe Your statutes continually.”
142 “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, And Your law is truth.”
160 “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”

This pastoral advice to Timothy points out these four ways God’s word is profitable. God’s revealed will enables his people to be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Bible is a book of content. It is not just interesting reading material. We need to learn and then to do what it says in order to live in a way that pleases our Redeemer. This is the only way to enjoy fulfilling what we were made to be.

The standard for our obedience is the moral law of God.

Question 40 of our Shorter Catechism says,

“The rule which God at first revealed to man, for his obedience, was the moral law.”

It is one thing to say we should live morally, obeying what God says is right and what truly satisfies our real needs. It is quite another thing to know which attitudes and behaviors are really moral.

There are many different views about morality. Some things are universally accepted as right and wrong. God built into our nature an awareness that it is evil to commit murder, and to steal. Most agree that it is wrong to be unfaithful in marriage, to be greedy, and to lie. Most agree that it is good to help others in need, to worship, and to be kind to others. However, there is a lot of confusion about when some of these things are binding upon us. There are many views about how worship should be done, and when ambition becomes greed.

To clear up the confusion in our fallen nature God gave us his written word. The Bible tells us what is good and acceptable in the eyes of God. These principles are called God’s moral law. This is not a set of baseless rules made up for us as tests, or for earning our way to heaven. Moral law is the way things must be in a universe created by the one True God.

It is always wrong to worship other gods, to make physical images of God who is spirit, to use God’s name without respect, or to forget honoring the Creator on the Creation Sabbath. It is never right to show disrespect to those God puts in authority over us, or to murder. No one should be unfaithful in marriage, steal, lie, or covet.

The Ten Commandments were not just laws for Israel.
Not one of them was made up in the time of Moses. They all go back to creation itself. They are a summation of these ethical principles that can never be annulled. The first four tell us about how the Creator should be worshiped. The last six tell us how we should live together as his creatures designed to live for his glory.

In our era, even some churches teach that not all of God’s revealed moral principles apply today. They explain away one after another of these universal standards, making excuses or loop holes to justify violating what remains.

That is exactly what many of the people of Israel did in the time of the prophets. It is what the Pharisees were doing in the time of Jesus and the Apostles. It is what corrupt churches have done since the time the Bible was completed.

Some are quick to point out that Jesus fulfilled all of God’s law. This is certainly true. But we need to let Scripture alone tell us what it means to fulfill the law.

It certainly does not mean that he eliminated any of these moral principles. Jesus made an important contrast in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.

The word translated “to fulfill” is “plaero-o” (πληροω) which means to make something complete. Jesus makes it clear in verse 17 that this does not mean he destroyed the law.

The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament given in the time of Moses were completed in Christ. He fulfilled what they were teaching. They showed in advance that God would send a substitute to pay for the sins of his people. To continue the sacrifices, washings, and dietary rituals, the priestly system, or the added ceremonial Sabbaths, would be to deny that they all pointed to Jesus Christ as the final sacrifice, as our High Priest, as our only washing from sin and clothing of righteousness. He did not end the principles taught in these ceremonies. He brought them to completeness and satisfied their demands for us.

Jesus also fulfilled the moral law for us. He paid the penalty demanded by eternal justice for us. We deserve death for violating the Creator’s moral principles. Jesus suffered and died in place of those who come to him trusting in his Atonement.

He also perfectly kept the moral law in our place, fulfilling all its demands as our representative. The legal benefits of his obedience are credited to us. We are clothed in his Righteousness. By his completed work he brings believers back into fellowship with God. This makes them able to do things that are truly good. He breaks the chains of sin so that it is no longer our master or motive. This moves us to want to honor our Creator out of gratitude. Jesus never made it acceptable to dishonor God’s name, break the Creation Sabbath, murder, steal, or lie. Only unbelief or dispensational extremism could eliminate any one of the moral laws of God.

Jesus and the Apostles often spoke of God’s moral principles as still binding. For example, in Romans 7:7 Paul said, “I would not have known sin except through the Law”

We who love the Lord know we are saved by grace alone, not by our obedience. Our desire in response is to honor our Creator and Redeemer, and to enjoy doing so forever. Our great passion is to hunger to know what God says is right and good. We prayerfully work to do those things, and to say “no” to thoughts and actions that offend him.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Nature of God’s Law

The Nature of God’s Law

by Bob Burridge © 2010

This article is a taken from our lager Syllabus lesson about God’s Law. It deals with just one brief aspect of that holy law. For the details, support texts and a more complete presentation read through the lessons on God’s Law in Unit 5, Nomology in our Syllabus. The following paragraphs were excerpted from the first lesson in this Unit.

The Nature of Law

Law is a concept many tend to isolate and examine as if it had an existence of its own. We tend to think of individual precepts and rules that bind us morally or civilly as various conditions arise. However, law ultimately has its origin in the unified and independent nature of God. It is what pleases him, and what is consistent with his purpose as Creator and Sustainer. It defines what is moral and right.

Matthew 5:17-20
The ancient sects of the Scribes and Pharisees had departed from a right understanding of God’s law and confused its use. They made it into a superficial set of regulations which they saw as a means of salvation, and as a cause for personal pride and judgmentalism. Jesus explained to them how their attitude toward the law was wrong. The context of Matthew 5 contrasts their perversions of moral law with what God had actually said and intended. He also countered the charge that he in any way degraded the ancient law given through Moses. He said …

17. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill.
18. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
19. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus denied that his coming was intended to abolish or to destroy the law or the words of the prophets. The Greek term he use in 5:17 is kataluo (καταλυω), which means to throw down, destroy, demolish, abolish, or annul.

He immediately added the positive side showing what his purpose was regarding the law. He came to fulfill it. The word he used for fulfill is plaerosai (πληρωσαι), which means “to fulfill, accomplish, complete or to bring something to its full measure.”

John Calvin stated in his commentary, “Christ, therefore, now declares, that his doctrine is so far from being at variance with the law, that it agrees perfectly with the law and the prophets, and not only so, but brings the complete fulfillment of them.”

Jesus accomplished this in his three offices. As Prophet he brought the law to it fullest revelation by showing us the meaning underlying the symbols and practices of the ceremonial law. As Priest he was the Sacrificial Lamb satisfying the demands of the law in the place of his people. He represented them both in the keeping of the law perfectly, and in the suffering and dying to satisfy the demands of divine justice for their sin. As King he pronounced the curse of the law upon those who remain the enemies of God and of God’s Kingdom.

The perpetuity of the law is compared with the persistence of the created universe. Beginning with the solemn declaration “truly” (αμην), he said that the law would last as long as the universe lasts. It would remain until the heaven and earth pass away. Those who imagine that Jesus was declaring the elimination of the law should observe the stars and mountains and conclude that such an end to the law has not yet taken place.

He then showed that the law as a whole persisted. Not even the smallest parts were being canceled out. He illustrated with references to the forms of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, the language of the law and the Old Testament. It is represented in Greek by the gospel writer.

The smallest letter in Greek is called the iota. It is like our letter “i” (ι). Matthew uses this to represent the Hebrew letter yodh, (translated “jot” in the KJV). It is a small mark raised above the line (י) representing the letter “y”, or as a helping consonant to lengthen the vowel “i”. The “stroke” he spoke of is the keraia, a Greek word representing the little extension on some forms that distinguish between certain Hebrew letters. For example the “b” (ב) in Hebrew and the “c” (כ) look similar. The difference is the hook or projection on the bottom right which is called the “tittle” in the KJV.

The analogy in English would be to say that not a dot over an “i” or a cross on the “t” would pass away from the law until all has been accomplished. That is the attitude of Jesus regarding the stability of God’s law.

To clarify even further Jesus condemned as least in the Kingdom of Heaven anyone who would dare annul and teach the annulment of even the least of these commandments. The rabbis had divided the law into 613 commandments. They identified 248 of them as stated positively and 365 as stated negatively. They debated which were the heavier or lighter commandments. According to many the lightest was found in Deuteronomy 22:6-7 which says that if you find a bird’s nest with young or eggs, and the mother of the bird is with them, you may take the eggs but you may not take the mother. The most weighty was generally agreed to be Deuteronomy 6:5 which requires that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and might. In Luke 10:27-28 Jesus accepted the answer about the weightiest law when it was offered to him by an expert in the law.

Jesus’ comments clarify what he meant by not coming to destroy the law but to fulfill it. All the points of God’s moral law, expanded upon in the context of Matthew 5:21-48, are perpetual and are not annulled or set aside in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus came to complete the law for us, not to take it away.

We must lay hold of the law in its true sense as a moral and perpetual revelation of God’s commanded holiness. This ought to make us live more honorably to the Lord who has transformed us by grace, than did those hypocritical critics the Scribes and Pharisees.

John Calvin comments, “If we intend to reform affairs which are in a state of disorder, we must always exercise such prudence and moderation, as will convince the people, that we do not oppose the eternal Word of God, or introduce any novelty that is contrary to Scripture. We must take care, that no suspicion of such contrariety shall injure the faith of the godly, and that rash men shall not be emboldened by a pretense of novelty.” (Calvin’s Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, table 1-43)

Though Jesus seemed to disobey the law, it was really only their perverted interpretations of the law that he disobeyed. He did not abolish the law by fulfilling it. This is directly denied by his own words. Instead of abolishing the law he fulfilled it.

Summary of the Practical Importance of God’s Law
To summarize the practical importance of the law of God for believers living in this age of the ascended Savior, a few principles may provide a helpful guide.

1. God’s moral law reveals what is pleasing to the Eternal King.
It shows us what is right and true. The revealing of the nature of God is presented in Scripture as a prime purpose of all things made (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:20). Therefore making himself known must also be a prime purpose of his specially revealed moral law. The more we understand God’s law, the more we will respond with proper worship regarding his glory.

2. God’s law exposes our fallen nature and inability to please God.
The more we understand God’s law, the more we are humbled before the perfectly pure holiness and justice of our Heavenly Father. It shows how unworthy we are of his blessing, and how impossible it is for us to keep the law sufficiently to please God, even in one little point.

3. God’s law foreshadows the work of Jesus as the Messiah.
The ceremonial law illustrates dramatically that our sin deserves death. It teaches that unless God provides a substitute for his people by a gracious covenant, there is no hope for any one. The symbolic animal sacrifices of the Old Testament foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Since his death for his people has been completed, the rituals of the Levitical code have ceased to have a purpose. But what was required by divine justice remains: Death for sin is required of everyone descending from Adam by ordinary generation. The only satisfaction in place of the sinner would be a perfect Redeemer who was also the infinite God who was the party offended. The ritual laws continue to drive us to Christ as we study the principles underlying them which are now made clear in the New Testament.

4. God’s law is a perfect guide for showing us how we ought to live.
The believer is made alive spiritually. This compels him by the renewed disposition of his heart to give thankful obedience to his Savior. The law of God shows what is pleasing to the object of our love. Otherwise we would not know how to honorably show our gratitude.

5. God’s law restrains sin for the benefit of the covenant people.
The general effects of the law are applied by God to society in general to provide a restraining effect that keeps depravity from expanding into total moral chaos. Ungodly societies have laws against murder, civil violence, theft, and such crimes that would disrupt societal tranquility. These laws are not imposed by them to honor the true God, but to benefit their own peace and prosperity. There is no true benefit to this kind of obedience for the unbeliever. The beneficiary of this restraint is the redeemed people of God.

God’s law continues to have great uses and benefits today. Though some legal duties may have only temporal applications, there is an eternal element to all of God’s law. The moral principles underlying the revealed precepts are never done away. We need to learn to honor that law and to be holy even as the Lord our God is holy (Leviticus 19:2).
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