God’s Law: What it is Not

1 Timothy 1:8 states, “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully.” This verse indicates that the law is good but it also implies that the law can be misused. People sometimes apply the law in an “unlawful” way—a way that is contrary to God’s intention. Perhaps the worst misuse of the law of God is when people think that they can earn a place in heaven by obedience to the law. This is simply not true. Since the fall of man into sin, it has never been appropriate to try to use the law to save yourself. The law itself tells us this; for it is the law that specified the need for blood atonement (e.g., Leviticus 17:11), which points to the work of Christ on the Cross (Colossians 2:17).

God is absolutely perfect, and His standard for us is absolute, perfect obedience (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). But none of us comes close to that standard; we all disobey God’s law (Romans 3:23). Some people seem to think God “grades on a curve” so that as long as they obey God most of the time, God will allow them into heaven. But God Himself says otherwise. He makes it clear that people will not be justified (made right in God’s eyes) by obedience to the law. Romans 3:20 states, “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.” When you break one of God’s laws, it is just like breaking them all (James 2:10–11).

So if you think you can be righteous in the eyes of God by “doing good” then you are horribly mistaken (Galatians 3:11). None of us is good enough for God’s perfect standard. We have all sinned against an infinitely holy God, and therefore we all deserve an infinite punishment in hell. If you are trusting in your own good deeds to earn your place in heaven, you will not see heaven. Salvation from hell cannot be earned. That was true in the Old Testament, and it is true in the New Testament. Fortunately, God in His great love and mercy has provided salvation for us. God the Son paid the penalty for our disobedience to His law by dying on the Cross in our place.

Every person on earth will either (1) receive Christ as Lord, thereby receiving forgiveness of sins by Christ’s payment on the Cross, or (2) pay for his or her own sins eternally in the lake of fire. Revelation 20:12–15 describes the final judgment:  “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds…  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

We read that the “books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.” So we find that people will be judged based on (1) “the books”—what they have done and how it compares to what the Bible teaches, and (2) what is written in the Book of Life. No one will pass the first test because all have sinned; none of us have lived up to the requirements of God’s Law. The Book of Life is the only one that matters in terms of our salvation. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15). Notice that there are no exceptions.

By confessing our sins, confessing that Christ is Lord, and having faith that He did indeed die on the Cross for our sins and that He rose again, we receive God’s gracious gift of salvation (Romans 10:9–10). God will then treat us as if we had perfectly obeyed His law, just as Christ did in reality (1 John 3:5, 2 Corinthians 5:21). God’s grace received through faith in Christ is the only way to be saved—we cannot be saved by good works (Ephesians 2:8–9). Since the Fall of man, faith (not works) in God has always been the sole criterion for salvation (Galatians 2:16). Galatians 3:6 states, “Even so Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” In the Old Testament, people looked to the future for their Redeemer; whereas we today look back to the work of Christ. But all people—whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament—can only be saved by grace received through faith in Christ.

Nonetheless, those people who have received Christ as Savior will want to obey His law. Obedience to the law does not lead to salvation; rather, it follows from salvation. The kind of faith that is genuine is the kind of faith that will produce good works. This is what James means when he tells us that faith without works is “dead” (James 2:17). Even demons have a type of “faith” in God, in the sense that they believe He exists (James 2:19); but this faith will not save them. Saving faith leads to obedience. That doesn’t mean we will never sin again. But it does mean that we will want to obey God out of love and gratitude.

Those people who profess Christ as Savior, but who make no effort to obey Him as Lord are deceiving themselves (James 1:22). If Christ is not your Lord, He is not your Savior (1 John 2:3–6, 3:6–10). That doesn’t mean you will never sin of course.  But if you are genuinely saved, you will want to obey God’s law. Christians obey God—not to earn salvation—but out of gratitude for that unmerited gift of salvation.

One Response to God’s Law: What it is Not

  1. Jessica Larson says:

    Thank you so much for using the insight God has given you to write this wonderful reminder of the truth that we are saved by grace by faith alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). I also want to thank you for using your PhD in a way that honors and glorifies Christ. I am in the science field too, and finishing my Bachelor’s in Biology. I will be pursuing my Master’s degree in Biology next year. While attending a secular university, your articles and resources have been very helpful for me to strengthen my apologetics. I hope to use my degrees for the glory of Christ as well, and would apply to AiG or ICR if I ever did pursue a PhD in the future. =)

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