Kingdom Living and God’s Law
“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” (Eph.2:8,9). These wonderful words teach that our salvation has nothing to do with our works or efforts—it is all of grace. (see the article, Justification and God’s Law). The reason we have been saved, however, is so that we might glorify the Lord by our works (Matt.5:16). It’s only from the position of being totally accepted by God, that we are able to truly live for God’s glory. We were created and redeemed to glorify God by serving Him (1 Cor.10:31; Eph.2:10; Titus 2:14; 3:8; Heb.10:24; 1 Pet.2:12). Vibrant Kingdom service flows from an awareness that we are fully accepted and eternally secure in God’s presence. Each one of us has to die to sin before we are able to live completely for God (Rom.6:11). Being dead to sin means having the demands of justice against you fully satisfied, which is nothing less than being executed for your sins (Ezk.18:20; Rom.5:12; 6:23), which Christ endured for His elect (1 Cor.5:7; 2 Cor.5:21; Eph.5:2; Heb.10:12; 1 Pet.3:18).
When someone is born from above by the power of God, we have to ask what the long term consequences will be upon the whole of that person’s life. Once we are born into the Kingdom, surely we need to know what it means to live in the Kingdom. Our answer to this question however, must be strictly Biblical, lest we explain it according to our own preconceived ideas and end up with a distorted view of Kingdom life. If our view of Kingdom living is wrong, then the way we live our lives will bring neither glory to God, nor real joy to us (Rom.14:17). It is wrong to think that Kingdom life is only an inner, spiritual attitude of the heart that has no relationship to, nor makes any impact upon, the affairs of this world. While the fullness of the Kingdom is still future, there can be no escaping from its present reality. Though the Kingdom is birthed individually within people’s hearts, the evidence of this inner reality is to be clearly manifested in every aspect of their everyday life (Lk.6:43-49; 2 Cor.10:5; 2 Tim.3:16,17; 1 Pet.1:15).The way we bring glory to God is by walking in the newness of life (Rom.6:4), rather than in the way the Gentiles walk (Eph.2:1-3; 4:17-19; 1 Pet.4:3). God expects His children to manifest the good works that He ordained for them to walk in (Eph.2:10), which means walking in a way that is worthy of Him (Col.1:10) and being careful to maintain good works (Titus 3:8). In other words, we are to walk in the light (Eph.5:8; 1 John 1:7). Walking in the light cannot be limited to a few narrow areas of our existence. Why? Firstly, because there is no possibility of being neutral about anything in life and secondly, because God has clearly said that He expects us to be holy in all of our conduct (1 Pet.1:15). It is because of this expectation that God has revealed everything we need to know in order to thoroughly equip us for every good work (2 Tim.3:16,17). Paul told us that our minds need to be conformed to the Lord’s mind if we are going to be able to know and approve what is the good, acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom.12:2). If we are going to imitate Christ, our lives must also be governed by the principle: “Not my will, but thy will be done” (Matt.6:10; 26:42; Mk.14:36).
How Do We Know What’s Right And Wrong?
If everything we do is meant to glorify God, then the immediate question we are faced with is, how do we know which works are acceptable to the Lord and thus, will glorify Him? Or, how do we know whether we are acting in obedience or disobedience to His will? In other words, how can we be sure that we are walking in the light, as He is in the light? (1 John 1:7). If there is no objective (i.e., external to ourselves), unchanging standard that explains what is righteous and what is unrighteous, then every person’s opinion is equal and there is no basis for finding fault with any ideas or actions that differ from your own. Our ethics then will be determined by personal preference, with everyone doing what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).
The testimony of Scripture is that there is a right and a wrong way to think about and do everything in this life. It is because of this that we are exhorted to be “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor.10:5). While our justification is all of grace, we have been saved in order to do good works. To say that we are able to determine what these good works are, independently of the Scriptures, is not being naïve, but rebellious—wanting to exalt our wills above God’s will. Desiring to determine right and wrong independently of God is the root of all sin, flowing from Satan, through Adam and Eve, to us (Gen.3:1-6; Rom.5:18). The only sure way to glorify God is to live by every word from His mouth, every moment of our lives (Matt.4:4). The standard we are to be in subjection to is objective not subjective—it is the written word preserved for us in the Bible. This means that the Holy Spirit does not work independently of the Scriptures and communicate to us a standard of righteousness that is not clearly revealed in the Bible. The Spirit enables us to understand what has been written, empowers us to obey what has been written and helps us apply to our own circumstances what has been written, but He does not bring instruction that has not been written (John 14:26; 16:13-15). It is man’s rebellion against God’s authority that makes him devise another source from which he receives his ethical instructions. This is still rebellion even though he claims that it is the Holy Spirit who is showing him what is right and wrong. The Holy Spirit’s instruction operates in the realm of the objective standard of God’s word, not in the realm of man’s subjective impulses and feelings. Our only sure foundation is to stand upon the immovable word of God and bring every thought “to the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa.8:20).
What It Means To Love Your Neighbor
Moses said that in giving the children of Israel God’s law, he had set before them life and blessing (Deut.30:15,16). James calls loving our neighbor the royal law of Scripture (James 2:8). The whole of God’s word is about love—loving God and our neighbor. Love, however, cannot be defined without the law of God, for to love is to do what is revealed in the law (Matt.22:36-40; 1 John 5:2). Jesus summed up all of the law in two sentences: loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, He wasn’t cancelling all of God’s commandments (Matt.5:17-19), and thus forcing us to determine how to love God and our neighbor. When you sum something up you don’t erase everything that has been said previously, but rather, you condense everything you have said previously. What Jesus did when He said we are to love God and our neighbor, was distill the whole law so as to clearly show it’s essence (see too Rom.13:9).
To define love as a feeling or emotion of the heart and therefore claim that your direction for life (i.e., the way you love) comes from this “inner prompting or feeling of love,” is to place yourself in direct opposition to the apostle Paul (Rom.13:8-10; Gal.5:14). Christ and the apostle John also condemn all those who deny how central the law is in defining love (John 14:15,21; 15:10,14; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:14; 4:7; 5:3; 2 John 5,6). We love our neighbor by relating to him in accordance with God’s law. To relate to him in any other way is to hate him. People who only want to relate to others in accordance with their “inner promptings” want to be a law unto themselves, i.e., to be their own god by determining right and wrong for themselves. The Scriptures call such behavior rebellion. Those whose rule for life is to do what is right in their own eyes, are said to be perverse (Judges 21:25; Prov.12:15; 30:12; Isa.5:21). To love does not mean to be guided by an inner prompting, but rather to live in obedience to a clear objective standard. This standard has been given to and preserved for us by God in the Scriptures and is a reflection of His unchanging character.
Paul says that the whole of the law has one ultimate focus, namely, showing us how we ought to relate to and treat others. This is summarized as loving our neighbors as ourselves (1 Tim.1:5)—where love flows from a good conscience and sincere faith. Loving and worshipping the true God is the only starting place for loving my neighbor. Thus, from the command to not have any other God except the Triune God of Scripture, to the command not to covet my neighbor’s property (Ex.20:3,17), all of them reveal how I am to live with my neighbor. To treat others in accordance with God’s law is proof that we know Him (Jer.22:15,16; Titus 1:16). When we truly love our neighbors, in accordance with God’s word, we are also manifesting true love for God, because if we truly love God, we will show this in how we relate to our neighbors (1 John 4:7,8,12,20,21). Adultery, for example, hurts adults, children, families, communities, societies and nations. When people refuse to commit adultery (in obedience to God’s law), they are not only loving God, but also their neighbors. We are not only to refrain from doing injury or harm to our neighbor, but we are to seek his good as much as it lies within us to do. We love when we relate to others in the way God has commanded, that is, by doing what He has said we must do and refraining from doing what He has said we mustn’t do. This is what it means to love others as ourselves and a greater demonstration of love than this is not possible. We love our neighbor by not sinning against him, but if God’s law is not showing us what this means, then there is no way to know for sure whether we are sinning against him or not (Rom.7:7).
Love is doing what is right (Deut.29:29) and what is right has been revealed to us in God’s law. To claim to be manifesting Biblical love, while despising the law of God, is to be greatly deceived. For example, the way we love the criminal, his victim and society, is by having laws that judge his crime in accordance with God’s word. To do anything less than this, in the name of “love,” is a manifestation of perversity and hatred toward both God and man. If the criminal is judged too harshly, it shows hatred toward him, which is not justice. To judge the criminal too leniently, shows hatred towards his victim and society, which is not justice. Doing ‘justice’ to all people is to love them (Prov.21:3). In a world that has a constantly changing view of right and wrong and of justice and injustice, the only way to love our neighbor as ourselves, is to live by every word from God’s mouth and bring everything into submission to the mind of Christ (Matt.4:4; 2 Cor.10:5; Col.2:3). Those who truly want to love their neighbors as themselves, will embrace and delight in the law of God (Ps.40:8; 119:16,24,35,47,96-105,159; James 1:25). God’s children manifest His character by loving justice and righteousness (Jer.9:24; Micah 6:8) and they do this because God has given them hearts that love His law (Jer.31:33,34; Ezk.36:26,27).
Who Determines Which Scriptures Are Authoritative?
The Scriptures claim to be the final authority for everything we need to know in order to live in this life. If we do not trust the Scriptures to be the standard for everything, then upon what basis can we appeal to them to be the standard for anything? Which person or organization is going to decide which things in Scripture are true and binding and which things are not? Upon what basis can such a ruling be made? The same Scriptures that explain the meaning of Christ’s death upon the cross, and how one is declared just by a holy God, also explain the boundaries for the state’s authority; what the appropriate punishments are for particular crimes; how we are to educate our children; what marriage is; what we ought to do in the work place, etc.—in short: how we ought to love God and our neighbor (Matt.22:37-40). To deny the binding nature of the Bible’s explanation about any of these areas, necessarily denies the authority of its revelation in every area. The Christian who denies the legitimacy of the Biblical penal sanctions (i.e., that the convicted murderer should be executed), has no authority to support his claim that we need to believe in Christ’s substitutionary atonement upon the cross in order to be saved from our sin.
To claim that human reasoning can be used as the standard to pick and choose what is and isn’t authoritative in the Scriptures, is to destroy the possibility of an absolute word from God. When the authority of God’s word is denied in one area, then it undermines God’s authority in every area, including what He says in His word about salvation. If we deny the authority of God’s moral law for today, then how do we disagree with those who say it is irrational to believe that one’s faith in Christ’s death propitiates God’s wrath for the sinner? We can’t reject the authority of some Biblical truths because they clash with our personal feelings and maintain the authority of others that we like. If, by human reasoning, we can reject God’s ruling on any issue (e.g., by saying the death penalty for rape is too harsh for our day), then it is possible, by using this same human reasoning, to reject His teaching about justification, or the Trinity or that Jesus is both man and God. The whole of the Bible stands or falls together.
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t believe that God is even concerned with all of life, let alone that He has given specific principles and laws to govern all of life. However, it is clear: there is no such thing as neutrality (see the article, The Myth of Neutrality). All things were created to glorify the Lord and thus, Christ’s redemption is as extensive as the fall, though far more powerful. The believer’s calling under God is to be involved in the work of reconciling all things to Him (see the article, Redemption Versus The Fall). It is nothing but wilful ignorance, therefore, that keeps people “blind” to the comprehensive nature of Christ’s Kingdom. If it’s not God’s will that ought to be done on earth as it is in heaven, then whose will ought to be done? (Matt.6:10). If Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt.28:18), then isn’t everyone expected to do things according to His will? Christ said people ought to be discipled by being taught to observe everything He commanded (Matt.28:20). If we deny that God’s standard should rule in the affairs of men, then whose standard should rule? If Christ is Lord, then shouldn’t all of our thoughts and actions be brought into submission to His standard? The areas in which we are responsible to think God’s thoughts after Him, are as diverse and extensive as life itself and no area or issue is excluded (Matt.4:4; 2 Cor.10:5; 2 Tim.3:16,17). The burden of proof is upon those who deny this, or upon those who give lip service to it, but then in practice, make up their own standards and live their lives in accordance with the “wisdom” of this world (i.e., independently of God’s word, Mk.7:6-9; Lk.6:46; 13:25-27). God’s word, however, deals with every aspect of our existence and no matter which area we are talking about, the Scriptures are the only sure basis for understanding that area correctly and showing us how to order it aright, for the glory of God. If God’s standard is not allowed to be the final authority for every area of life, then which standard should we use to guide us? This question must be answered!
The apostles, and even Christ Himself, clearly relied upon God’s law to justify their standard of righteousness. For example, John’s rejoicing was because people were walking in the truth, that is, according to the “commandment from the Father” (2 John 4); Paul’s teaching about paying preachers rests upon the authority of God’s law (1 Cor.9:7-10; 1 Pet.5:18); the fifth commandment is the foundation of Paul’s instruction to children about obeying their parents (Eph.6:1-3); and Jesus confirmed the relevance of even the “difficult” laws without apology (Mk.7:10). The reason for this was because Christ did not come to do away with the law in any way (Matt.5:17-19).
Paul’s Negative Statements About The Law
Paul’s negative statements about the law in Galatians (e.g., Gal.2:19-21, etc.) must be understood in the context of him dealing with one of the greatest of all human errors, namely, the belief that sinners are able, through their own efforts, to make themselves acceptable to God. To use the law as the basis for making ourselves righteous in God’s eyes is a perverted use of the law and ought to be condemned in the strongest possible terms. However, Paul has a very high view of the law when it is used lawfully (1 Tim.1:8). For example, he says that: “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom.13:10); “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom.7:12); and he delights “in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom.7:22). Paul died to the law (Gal.2:19) so that he might live unto God and this living entails obedience to God’s law-word (Matt.4:4; John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-6; 5:2,3). It is the law that defines godly love (Matt.22:36-40; Gal.5:14), that is, the law shows us how to love others as we have been loved (John 15:12, cf., John 14:15,21; Rom.13:8-10). Away then with the foolish idea that believers should have nothing more to do with the law of God! The law is nothing other than a revelation of God’s holy will and character and therefore, remains eternally relevant and binding for all people.
Moral and Ceremonial Law
It is important to make a distinction between the moral law and the ceremonial law and understand what the purpose was/is for each. The moral law (which is summarized in the 10 Commandments) has two main functions. Firstly it shows the standard of perfect righteousness so that all men are condemned before God and left without excuse for their sin before Him. The moral law is meant to drive sinners to Christ (Gal.3:24). It’s in the light of the moral law that people see how far from righteousness they fall and thus, how polluted they are in the sight of a holy God. When sinners are confronted with their own wickedness, their inability to atone for their sin or to stop sinning, the only hope they have is to cry out for mercy—and mercy is found in the name of Christ alone. The only possible way of escape is to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, that is, they must believe in Christ’s completed work accomplished on their behalf. The ceremonial law, on the other hand, shows the sinner how to be reconciled with a holy God. The moral law reveals what righteousness is and the ceremonial law shows the way of reconciliation for those who violate the moral standard (how atonement for sin is to be made). The Old Testament details of the ceremonial law are no longer binding upon us because they have been fulfilled by Christ. These ceremonies were always only shadows of the redemption that Christ would accomplish (Col.2:14,16,17; Heb.10:4-16, etc). Thus, we must neither despise the ceremonial law since it served its purpose in the plan of God, nor should we become entangled by it, but rather rejoice in the redemption that is ours through faith in Christ (Rom.10:12,13; Gal.3:28; Eph.2:11-16; 3:5,6; Col.3:11).
The other function of the moral law is to show those who have been redeemed how they are to love their Lord and their neighbor. That is what this paper is about.
To summarize: the believer’s obedience of God’s law is not unto justification, but rather, him being fully and freely justified by God provides the basis for his obedience to the law and thus growth unto maturity. Believers are made joint heirs with Christ through faith, which means they become His brothers and sisters. A fundamental characteristic of Christ’s brethren, however, is that they do the will of His Father who is in heaven (Matt.12:50), for this is what Jesus did (John 5:19,30). God’s goal for every believer is that they be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom.8:29) or to put it another way, that they all come to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13). The only objective standard showing us what this looks like is God’s revelation through His law, which He has preserved for us in the Bible. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa.8:20). “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” (2 Tim.3:16-17). The Scriptures are completely sufficient for instructing us about the whole of our salvation, which includes both how we are declared just by God and then, once justified, how we are to glorify our Savior and Lord.