What comes to mind when you think of rules or laws? In this anti-authority age, it is natural for our minds to think of rules and laws as oppressive, restrictive, and limiting freedom. But maybe what we think about rules and laws reveals more about us and our cultural moment than it does the rules that are given.
Some rules and laws just seem ridiculous. It’s illegal to run out of gasoline on the Autobhan. Swearing in the United Arab Emirates could get you fined, jailed, or deported. You are forbidden from dying in Sarpourenx, France without a pre-purchased burial plot. These laws might sound ridiculous to us, but when we understand that it is extremely dangerous to be walking along the Autobhan, swearing is seen as an offense against another’s dignity in the U.A.E., and Sarpourenx has run out of burial plots, the context explains a lot.
In the same way, when we approach the law of God, we need to know the story of the Bible and the character of God. The Bible understands that sin and slavery are so deeply interwoven into our beings that we need to be rescued and called to a new way of life. For this reason, the 10 commandments begin with God’s redeeming work (“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” – Exod. 20:1) and sets out what a holy people will look like to the watching nations (Exod. 19:5-6). Before we focus on the commands of God, we need to know the God who has given these commands and the reason for his commands. He does not give commands that are ridiculous or irrelevant. For His commands are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3b).
God had given his law to Israel in order to make them his representatives to the world – a light to the nations (Isa. 60:3), displaying his gracious and just character. He had given his law to make Israel visibly different. But Israel failed over and over again both in obedience and in their mission of being a light to the world.
But when John introduces us to Jesus, he begins by telling us he is the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14). In Jesus, we see all of the holiness, justice, goodness, wisdom, and perfection of God. Jesus comes and he fulfills the law (Mt. 5:17-18), obeying it completely and perfectly (Jn. 14:31a). And he comes to give us all of the blessings of the law to those who would trust in him (see Eph. 1:3-14) and take all of the curses of the law for those who had broken it and turned to him (Gal. 3:13-14).
So what then of the law? The purpose of the law has always been to be a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). And the law of Christ – the law of love – reminds us that we still need more of Christ so that we might be a light to the world (Matt. 5:14-16), a visibly different people who display God to the world.
Are God’s laws confusing? Only when we detach them from their purpose – to magnify the glory of Jesus Christ!
So look to Christ! Follow him! Trust in his good commands!