I have seen the consummation of all perfection, But Your commandment is exceedingly broad. [Ps 119:96, NKJV for all Bible Quotations]
Most people, even most Christians, try to reduce God’s Law in some way in order to give themselves breathing room for things that they like to do, many of which the Bible would condemn as sin. There are the simple ways of doing it:
1) Saying that the Christian is under grace, and not under law, and thus there is no longer any law that the Christian is subject to.
True, we don’t earn our salvation. It is gracious in every way. Consider Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We are saved by grace, and faith is the instrument that shows we have been saved. Even the faith is a gift from God. But after that, God calls the believer to good works, which are also the hand of God moving in the believer’s life.
But, good works are not we we deem to be so, they are what God deems. And the Law of God was given to the Church graciously. Consider Exodus 20:2, where God introduces the law to his people Israel.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
In a figure to Christians, God says to Israel that he has saved them without them having to do one single thing. Now that He has saved graciously, He asks them to keep His Law to please Him, not that through it they might be saved. No one, except Jesus, could perfectly keep God’s Law, and thus be saved — and that is why the Jews had sacrifices prefiguring the one ultimate sacrifice that could forgive, Jesus Christ.
2) Many Christians pick out notable sins, and call those the sum total of sin, and ignore lesser sins. In some eras, it would be drinking, dancing, smoking, lewd entertainments, etc. The sad thing is that people think that if they avoid only their subset of sins, they are than not sinning.
We must point them back to the Law of God, which defines Sin. As Romans 4:15b says “…where there is no law there is no transgression.”
We can also mention that the Pharisees had a far more detailed code that attempted to make God’s Law easier to keep by making the rules more precise, using the teachings of the Rabbis of the past. But, making the rules more precise means that the heart gets cut out of them. It is more useful for me to know that I ought not to seek my own pleasure on the Sabbath, than to say, “Don’t do A, B, C, D, etc.” The Law is powerful as it is; it needs no helpers.
3) Still others deny that God could care about what they do, if he exists at all.
To these we should speak of the Last Judgment — that they will stand before God for everything that they have done, said or thought. Their own consciences have a sense of right and wrong, given by God, yet warped by them, accusing others, excusing themselves for the evil that they do. And, maybe we have to tell them about Hell. Yes, Hell, with torture there forevermore, because they have sinned against the knowledge that they have, and have ignored the entreaties given by God through the Church and its members.
4) Then there are sloppy Christians (myself sometimes included) who understand that the obeying the Law of God is a goal to be pursued, but don’t want to think too hard about the implications, because they are having too much fun. They don’t want the details. Some aim for a minimalistic version of the Ten Commandments, because like the Rich Young Ruler, they vainly think that they could keep such a demanding standard.
Even Theonomists, who love the Law of God do something like this. I like the works of R. J. Rushdoony, and would recommend them to you, but he errs in one place, where he says that the implications of God’s Law are not God’s Law. No, the implications, if they are good and necessary, are also part of God’s Law. How could it be otherwise? Judges apply the Law and its principles to varying situations, because not everything is the same across cultures.
There is a richer way to view the Law of God. Jesus was the second Moses, and he brought the Law back to its original meaning. The Saducees had clipped the Law down to the Pentateuch, and the Pharisees had confounded it with their traditions. Jesus came and said (Matthew 5:17-20):
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Until Heaven and Earth disappear… the Law is valid until the Last Judgment. Our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Not easy to do; they were focused. But Christ came to fulfill the Law, which has two senses: to keep it for his elect people, and to teach its fullness. It is the latter concept that I want to focus on.
In the next verses Jesus said:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause[b] shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. 23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.
Jesus goes for the heart of the law, and not its mere statement. It not only forbids the thing in itself, but everything tending toward it. It not only forbids the thing in itself, but commands the virtues entailed in preventing the sin. Jesus brings the Law back to its original meaning by making it apply to our hearts, which includes our thoughts and words, as well as our actions.
The rest of Chapter 5 goes through many other related issues, including adultery, oaths, and more.
The complex term that describes this interpretation is called Synecdoche. The idea is that there is the broad principle of the Law that represents a broader aspect of behavior. The Law not only means don’t do that, but do do good things that are the opposite of the thing commanded against. Also, the Law means don’t do lesser things related to the law in question. Avoid all aspects of evil. Let your aim be to promote good at all points.
The Larger Catechism is a unique rendering of the what the Law of God means. It takes the concept of synecdoche further, applying what the Scriptures say to each commandment, pressing the sense of the commandments positively and negatively. The Larger Catechism looks at the Scriptures in broad and in detail, and sets out what the Scriptures condemn and approve.
I will finish this next week, Lord willing.