If our faith is about a relationship rather than law, why does the law exist?
We were always intended by God to live life with our focus upon Him. He designed our operating system as an intimate relationship of love. Out of that relationship, we will be compelled by His love to do what pleases Him, which just happens to be the right thing. God never intended us to live by law. So here is the question: if that was His intent and purpose, then why did He give us The Law? What was the origin of The Law? Why did God give it? Click to listen to my sermon.
Before we answer these questions we need to understand the context of the giving of The Law. God had been trying to live a relationship of love with mankind but man, through sin, consistently rejected this relationship [sin being defined as living independently from God]. Prior to giving man The Law, God attempts, once more, to draw His people back into intimacy with Him. This big try occurs at Mt. Sinai. And here is how it unfolds.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Exodus 19:10-11 [Note the phrase; “in the sight of all the people”]. What is God offering here? Nothing less than what Moses had already experienced! Remember how Moses asked God to show him His glory? Now is the time for that to happen for everyone!
One of the instructions that God gave Moses to prepare the people for His coming is a strange one. For years I didn’t understand it. “After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations”. Exodus 19:14-15
He is talking to married couples here, yet He is telling them to abstain from sexual relations. Why? God is the author of sex. This is sex within marriage, so why would He tell them to abstain? I think the answer is that God is coming to reveal Himself to His people, to be intimate with them, and He doesn’t want any competing intimacy to interfere with it. He doesn’t want any other intimacy to distract from intimacy with Him. His heart is to come and love His people fully.
Let’s set the stage. The third day has come: On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Exodus 19:16 [ here is one of those lovely understatements: “Everyone in the camp trembled”. No kidding]
God hasn’t even shown up yet and there is smoke and lightning. God’s PR people do a pretty good job of portraying His glory. He hasn’t arrived yet and everything is breaking loose. Talk about having good advance men!
The story continues: Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. Exodus 19:17-19
Now at this point in Exodus the writer, Moses, puts in the 10 commandments. He puts them in as if that is the next thing that happened chronologically. The people all come out, they are standing around, there is fire and smoke and then, all of a sudden, here are the 10 commandments. But, that is not what happened chronologically.
If I take my NIV study Bible and turn to the passage, the footnote at the bottom of the page says that what Moses did here was take the 10 commandments and insert them into the story line at this point in his narrative, so that they would stand out from the many pages of commentary which follow the 10 commandments.
But that is not chronologically where they are given within the actual time frame. Good evangelical scholarship says the chronology goes like this: [Exodus 19:18] Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently…[now skip forward to Exodus 20: 18-19] …When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
It is easy to see, if you lift out the Ten Commandments, how the story proceeds seamlessly.
Now we can see that something very important is happening here. What just happened? The people rejected God! The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. It is at this point that The Law is given. The law was given after the people had rejected intimacy with the Father.
I believe the Law was given as a consequence of the people rejecting an intimate relationship with God. This is a profound thing! The consequence of rejecting intimacy with the Father is The Law.
It is important to note that the people did not reject God entirely. They rejected a relationship of intimacy with Him. They still wanted His blessing, protection, and guidance. They just didn’t want Him personally. They chose an intermediary – Moses.
So what happens when you choose to keep the holiness of God, but reject a personal relationship with God? You get His holiness, you get His standards, you get trying to measure up to who He is, but you don’t get His presence and intimacy.
You get His holiness without His empowering presence. You get the requirements of His holiness without the ability to follow them. Pause for a moment and let the serious of this dawn on you. The consequence of rejecting intimacy with God is The Law. It is a life under The Law. It is religion. The people have rejected God and intimacy with Him. The only thing you are left with when you reject relationship with Him, but want the rest of Him, are the requirements of His holiness – life under law.
This puts the people of Israel in the same position as all the rest of the world’s religions – under the requirements of a perfect God without the ability to measure up. But, the good news is that this was never God’s plan for us! Grace is His solution and it is the best news in all of human history! Grace lifts us out from life under law and restores us to a relationship of love and intimacy with our Father God. Good news or what?!?!