Have you ever wondered how many laws there are in the Old Testament? The most generally agreed-upon number is the one enumerated by the Mitzvot, the most broadly accepted codification of the Law of Moses: 613. Yes, six hundred and thirteen laws.
They range from comprehensive laws like the Ten Commandments, to smaller ones like which insects are okay to eat. You might ask: “Was all of that really necessary?” While I agree that wearing a garment that mixes linen and cotton probably isn’t a salvation issue, there was a divine purpose at work in these commandments. Let’s see what the apostle Paul said about this in the letter to the Galatians:
“Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed” (Galatians 3:22-23 NIV).
What Paul is emphasizing here is the necessity of the Law as a forerunner to what came next: the grace offered through salvation in Christ. As a Pharisee, Paul had devoted his life to the Law: learning it, debating it, and following it to the letter. He approached the law this way because he had come to regard it as setting out the conditions to merit or earn God’s faithfulness, forgiveness and love. So he knew by painful experience just how “locked up” a person could become by trying to earn God’s salvation through conformity to the demands of the Law. He was obeying the law not out of faith in the nature and character and purposes of God, but out of unbelief and distrust in God’s covenant heart and promises.
Part of Paul’s conversion involved coming to see that the particulars of the laws given to Israel were meant to help God’s people understand how they were to live out of trust or faith in the covenant faithfulness of God. The laws described in detail how the people were to obey out of trust in God’s promises to them, and through them, to all people. But their resistance and disobedience to these laws, graciously given to Israel, would also expose their hard and distrustful hearts. It would reveal the true depth of their sinful nature and prepare them to see their profound need for the redeeming work of Christ—a work that would need to somehow give them new hearts and renewed spirits.
The laws given to Israel were never meant to provide a contractual way for Israel to earn God’s blessing. God is a blessing God. But even through the misuse of the Law out of unbelief, God would still use it to powerfully draw his people to trust in the fulfillment of his promises to bring about their salvation in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the one who obeyed freely, joyfully and perfectly, because he alone has trusted perfectly in the covenant love and faithfulness of his heavenly Father in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He alone trusted entirely in the promises of God as one of us, as a complete human being, and he did this on our behalf, for our benefit. He did this to share with us, by the Spirit, all he accomplished for us. As our great high priest, he obeyed by faith even to the point of death in order to give us a share in his transformed human nature, in his renewed spirit. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NIV).
By living a sinless human life, Christ fulfilled the law — all 613 parts of it — and so fulfilled God’s covenant promises that reach all the way down to our hearts, minds, and fallen natures. What Christ accomplished for us, now allows us, by the Spirit, to live by grace, through faith in his redemptive work on the cross. Our obedience to the Word of God can now come out of trust in the fulfillment of his covenant promises. In the infinite wisdom of our Triune God, Christ’s work was the key that unlocked all of humanity, freeing us to live eternally out of the obedience of faith!
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of LIFE.