As my wife and I teach our fifteen-year-old son Aidan how to drive, I find myself thinking a lot about laws. He has to memorize and be tested on all of them (thank God!). The hope is that before he turns sixteen, they’ll be so much a part of him that he’ll obey them without thinking twice.
As parents, we make bunches of laws. Bosses and teachers do the same. We make laws about all sorts of things: don’t play in the street, raise your hand if you have something to say, be courteous to customers. These “laws” can feel restrictive at times, but they are given so that the family (or classroom or business) can flourish, right? There would be chaos without them!
And we make laws that teach others how we are to be treated, especially here in the South. Our family moved here from New York around the time our son Cameron entered second grade. His teacher (our beloved Jill Waller) told him to address her as “ma’am.” He replied, “I’m from New York. We don’t say, ‘ma’am.’” Her clear, but loving response: “You’re in Texas now.” He understood!
While the laws themselves are important, even more important is the spirit behind them. Someone can say, “Yes, ma’am,” with genuine kindness, while another can say it through clenched teeth. Both obeyed the “law,” but only one understood the heart of it.
Like the loving parent He is, the Lord gave many laws to the nation of Israel. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Israelites had mastered the letter of the law, but totally missed the heart of it, which is why, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took them to task.
We read these Old Testament laws today, and they seem so foreign and severe. But we must remember that the same loving God who sent His Son to die for us also gave those laws. He wanted the Israelites to flourish. He wanted them to understand how to show Him proper respect. He wanted them to distinguish themselves in their purity from the pagan cultures around them.
It’s also helpful to remember that sinful people, both then and now, can’t approach a holy God without purification. So how does that work for us today? Essentially, Christ came to fulfill the ceremonial aspect of the Law – the part that governs how fallen humans are to relate to a perfect God. So now, as Christ-followers, our purification comes through His fulfillment and His sacrifice on our behalf, not through our own attempts at keeping the Law!
I realize that there are Old Testament laws that make us uncomfortable and that are hard to understand, and sometimes critics accuse Christians of being inconsistent because we no longer follow the Old Testament ceremonial laws. This article by pastor Tim Keller does a fantastic job of answering some of those arguments.
Remember, God has not changed, even though the means He uses to bring broken humanity to Himself changed forever through Christ’s work. He remains a loving God who, like a good parent or teacher or boss, gives laws so that we can flourish!