The Multifaceted Law of God

1 Timothy 1:9 is a favorite verse of those who say that the Torah doesn’t apply to believers in Jesus. It’s a very poorly thought out position, however, because it’s contradicted by the very same verse.

(8) Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, (9) understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, (10) the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, (11) in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
(1 Timothy 1:8-11)

What does this passage actually say?

  1. The Law is good if it is used according to its intended purpose.
  2. The Law was written down (“laid down”) for those who didn’t already keep it, because only those who don’t already keep the Law need it to be spelled out for them.
  3. Anyone who practices or teaches anything that is contrary to sound doctrine still needs the Law.
  4. Sound doctrine is in harmony with the gospel that Paul taught.
  5. All of these things are contrary to both sound doctrine and the gospel: a) not keeping the Law, b) disrespecting parents, c) murder, d) sexual immorality, e) slaving, f) lying, g) oath-breaking.
  6. The “just” behave in a way that is in accordance with sound doctrine. They keep the Law, they respect their parents, et cetera.

In other words, the Law was written down because people weren’t keeping it, therefore the Law no longer applies to us and we don’t need to keep it. Wait…what? That doesn’t make sense! How did this very clear passage come to be understood to say something completely opposite of what it actually says?

Paul often wrote of one aspect of Torah or another, assuming that his readers understood the context. This can be very confusing for people separated by enormous barriers of time, culture, and language. We only have one side of these conversations and partial records at that.

The truth is that Torah serves multiple purposes. It is tutor, friend, and jailor. It is both life and death. Which role it fills at any given moment depends on where you are in your life’s journey and how far you are from your Creator.

The Hebrews’ journey from Egypt to Canaan illustrates some of Torah’s shifting roles. They were slaves in Egypt until God saved them by making a way through the Red Sea. In the wilderness, they received the Torah, developed a relationship with God, and trained in the ways of faith and righteousness. Finally, God made a way through the Jordan into Canaan to take possession of their inheritance and begin fulfilling their true calling in God’s plan.

The roles of TorahThe slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt is like the slavery we all suffer under sin. Torah reveals our low state and prompts us to cry out to God for mercy. It leads us to a knowledge of our need for a Savior, and if we don’t reach out to Him, it is a witness against us at the final judgment. The Hebrew slaves didn’t yet know the details of God’s commands, but like the sinner who hears the call to repent, they knew that they weren’t free. Only when we become aware of our chains and beg forgiveness does God lead us to freedom. He doesn’t demand anything of us at that point except humility and faith. “Stand back,” Moses said at the shore of the Sea, “and behold the salvation of Adonai!” With nothing but faith to walk, they crossed the Red Sea and left the defeated Egyptians behind. Sinai was still ahead in the wilderness.

Once across the water, God began to teach the Hebrews how to live. “Keep the Sabbath,” He said, then He led them to Sinai where He tried to write His Law on their hearts. They weren’t ready to receive it as their hearts where still too hard and scarred from sin, so He wrote it on tablets of stone and instructed Moses to write it in greater detail in a book. They spent forty years wandering in the wilderness in the direct presence of God, learning day to day how to live by His standards. This is like our first years as a new believer, learning the basics of righteous behavior and trading old habits for new. It takes time, practice, and discipleship to mature us into adults who can stand on their own.

Finally God said, “You have been wandering on this mountain long enough. It’s time to grow up.” God doesn’t want us to stay in the wilderness forever; it’s just basic training for life in the Promised Land. Israel never could have fulfilled her calling by continually wandering in the desert. Having accepted God’s salvation and then learning His Law, they had to cross the Jordan, dispossess the Canaanites (who had rejected God’s Law), and occupy the land.

When the conquest was complete, Torah would take on a whole new meaning. Many commands state, “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving to you, you will…” These commands could not be fully obeyed in the wilderness. No longer having to develop a godly culture from scratch, the Israelites were now to live it in full. Torah gives us the framework and the power to fulfill our true callings in God’s Kingdom, to live productively as a people serving God and as a priesthood to the world. Without it, our relationships flounder and our ministries decay, like the people of Judah before King Josiah revived Torah-living and created a program to reteach it to the nation.

  • While we are in slavery to sin, God’s Torah convicts us and drives us to call out to Him.
  • While we are new in our relationship to the Father, Torah teaches us and prepares us for ministry.
  • When we are adults, living out our divine calling in the world, Torah gives us answers to tough questions, keeps us from getting too far from the right path, and continually challenges us to climb higher, to live ever more righteously.

In different stages of our lives, God’s Law serves a different purpose. It can’t enslave someone whom God has set free, nor can it free anyone who is enslaved. Torah is the slave-master of sinners and a wise counselor to the righteous, death to the disobedient and life to the obedient. As Paul wrote, “Now we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully.”

The Needs of the Kingdom Come First

Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11
Isaiah 40:1-26
Matthew 23:29-39

Deuteronomy 3:23-26 Then I pleaded with YHWH at that time, saying: 24 ‘O Lord YHWH, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand, for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do anything like Your works and Your mighty deeds? 25 I pray, let me cross over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, those pleasant mountains, and Lebanon.’ But YHWH was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me. So YHWH said to me: ‘Enough of that! Speak no more to Me of this matter.’

There have been few men as close to God as Moses, so it seems incongruous that God would not heed his heartfelt prayer. Why doesn’t God grant every prayer every time? Charles Capps says one thing, Marilyn Hickey says another, and Henry Wright says something else again.

“Why Won’t God Heal Amputees?” really is one of the most disturbing and puzzling questions a person can ask. Maybe He just doesn’t like the motives of the people at the whywontgodhealamputees website, refusing to jump through hoops at the demand of mortals who have already decided He doesn’t exist. However, that doesn’t work for the many thousands or millions of true believers who are maimed and ill and unhealed, people who don’t care about proving anything to God or anyone else. They just want to be healed. To be perfectly honest, I can’t claim to understand why God responds to some prayers and not others, but I’m sure there are at least as many reasons as there are people.

When I was in the Air Force, they used to tell me that I could pick any job or assignment I wanted (within reason), and they would try to give it to me with this one caveat: The needs of the Air Force come first. If I wanted to go to England and if having me in England fit with the Air Force’s mission, then there was a good chance that’s where I’d go. But if the AF needed me in Japan, then I was going to Japan.

I believe that God operates the same way. He leaves most of the details of our lives completely up to us, but routinely throws trials and tasks in our path because those things are important to Him. Maybe they will help us to become the people He needs us to be or maybe they will serve the overall mission of His Kingdom, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be pleasant or have any resemblance to what we want. I believe He answers the prayers of the righteous (not so much those of the unrighteous), but that He frequently answers us in ways that we don’t like. If we believe, we can cause a mountain to be moved into the sea, but only if such a move aligns with God’s plans and our lives are aligned with Yeshua.

Ultimately, I believe that it comes down to this. God is His own person and isn’t answerable to anyone, not to you or me or the Director of the National Security Agency. He is the absolute, end-of-the-line boss of everyone in every circumstance. Most importantly, He makes his own decisions for His own purposes, and there is no reason to assume that we are the center of His world or that our good is His primary purpose. He is concerned with our good, of course, and He wants us to be healthy and happy, but that doesn’t mean that what’s good for you and me is the only thing He wants or that it’s the most important thing in His world. His view is bigger than that.

God is to be the center of our universe, not the other way around.
God is to be the center of our universe, not the other way around.

 13 Who has directed the Spirit of YHWH,
Or as His counselor has taught Him?
14 With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him,
And taught Him in the path of justice?
Who taught Him knowledge,
And showed Him the way of understanding?
15 Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket,
And are counted as the small dust on the scales;
Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.
16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn,
Nor its beasts sufficient for a burnt offering.
17 All nations before Him are as nothing,
And they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.

Isaiah 40:13-17

To Believe, To Love, and To Overcome

Believe + Love + Obey = Victory in Yeshua
Believe + Love + Obey = Victory in Yeshua
Climber on top pitch of Fionn Buttress (Doug Lee) / CC BY-SA 2.0 / Modified

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
(1 John 5:1-5)

All those who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah are the children of God. John did not mean the mere intellectual assent to the idea that Yeshua is the Messiah, but full acceptance and submission to Him as the Lord of the Kingdom of God. James wrote that even demons believe that God is one, yet they do not believe on Him. If they did, they would not have fallen. Likewise, we do not become children of God merely by believing that Yeshua is the promised Messiah, but by believing on Him as Messiah and Savior.

Whoever loves the Father, must also love His children, as any father will attest. If you attack a man’s children, you as good as attack the man. Likewise, if you bless a man’s children, you bless the father. If you claim to love your neighbor, yet treat his children spitefully, you are a liar, for a man’s children are an extension of himself into the world.

We know that we love the children of God if we love God and keep His commandments, for keeping His commandments is the very meaning of loving God. Yeshua said that the greatest commandment is to love God and that the second greatest is to love your neighbor. All the rest of the Law and the Prophets depend upon and these two. He was quoting from the Torah.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses explains that all of the commandments that make up the Torah are given for our good and the good of the whole people. He said that we should be careful to keep them, to meditate on them, and to teach them to our children. He commanded us to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, and these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” The very clear implication is that “these words,” the commandments of Torah, are both the instrument and the product of our love for God. If keeping God’s commandments brings blessings (as He told us multiple times), extends our lives, and is good for the whole community, then if we love our neighbors, we ought to be striving to keep God’s commandments. We keep them because we love God, and we keep them because we love His people.

His commandments are not difficult to keep, because all of His children are overcoming the world. Despite what you may have been told by people who refuse to believe the words of Moses (and Yeshua said that if you do not believe Moses, you won’t believe Him either), the commandments of God are not a burden. The Torah is not a curse. Rather, the commandments that men pile on top of God’s commandments are a burden. That is the thing that “neither we nor our fathers were able to bear”, not the commandments of God, which He described as “not too hard for you, not far off nor in heaven, not beyond the sea, but very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart so that you can do it.”

I don’t mean to imply that anyone can obey God’s Law perfectly–No one but Yeshua has ever been able to do that–but God never expected perfection. His Law contains numerous provisions for what we are to do when we fail, so rather than threatening eternal damnation for the slightest infraction, it assumes our evil inclination and tells of God’s eagerness to forgive. Obedience is in the heart, and God is graceful to forgive those who turn to Him with an obedient spirit despite the failings of the flesh.

Our victory over the world is by our faith. Because we have faith in God’s grace to forgive our sins and to work in our hearts as we seek to obey Him, we can be assured of victory over the world. He has already won the victory for us, and the only thing we need to do to obtain it is to put our trust in Him. So long as we live this life, our victory is not completely realized, but we are overcoming the world and our sinful nature through our faith in Messiah Yeshua.

Who else has overcome the world except he who believes that Yeshua is the Son of God? No one! Without Yeshua, there is no victory, there is no eternal life or forgiveness of sins. Through His shed blood, we are brought near to God and pulled away from the world. Through His broken flesh, one day our sinful flesh will be remade in His image, perfect and sinless. This is the ultimate victory of our faith and by our faith.

Because we believe in the victory He has purchased for us, we will behave as victors over the world and over our flesh. Because we love God, we will love His children. Finally, because He has taught us what it means to love by His commandments and by His example, we will obey Him.