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– Nehemia Gordon, Author & Hebrew Scholar
In America, we live in a place that has various types of laws: We have federal, state and local, to name a few. On a broader scale…there is international law, constitutional law, civil law, administrative law, and so on. In the day of Jesus and His first disciples, there was the enduring Law of YHVH, the Book of the Law received from Moses [which included God's Law], the oral law of the Jewish authority, and the local laws of occupying Rome.
Now, envision an American citizen today who is mean, nasty, speaks all kinds of profanities, and curses his mother every day. However, at the same time, this person stops at every red light when driving, pays his state and federal taxes, and even walks his elderly neighbor’s dog. Technically speaking, he is a perfect law abiding citizen. And for this reason, this man considers himself to be a good person. He sees nothing wrong with the condition of his character whatsoever.
Well...similarly, you will read in your Bible about people who were perfect “law abiding citizens” when it came to the “National Constitution” for the Jewish people, the Book of the Law received from Moses. The Apostle Paul, prior to conversion, was a good example of this. Paul described himself as being “blameless” concerning the righteousness which was of the law (e.g. Philippians 3:4-11). And then there was the oral law with its traditions which Pharisees had actually elevated above God's law and had become experts in teaching. But you will read how Jesus often rebuked these types of people (i.e. the self-righteous) and contrarily favored sinners who were admittedly “in need of a physician” (Luke 5:31).
Question: What is the point being made in the narrative above?
Answer: Just as obeying each and every law of a state or federal government today doesn’t make one justified before God, neither did one obeying every order in the Book of the Law received through Moses or the oral traditions of the Jewish authorities. Laws help govern people but God wants our hearts. He wants us to obey Him from within because we love Him and desire to please Him. And when we are granted God's nature and love Him, we love our fellow person as well. These two concepts sum up the entire Law of YHVH (Matthew 22:34-40).
Additionally, we should not try to obey the LORD merely out of a fear of punishment (1 John 4:16-19). And when we are obedient, we should never be self-righteous. After all, both faith and repentance are gifts from God. (e.g. Ephesians 2; 2 Timothy 2).
Sadly, rather than seeing self-righteousness as the key religious dilemma in Jesus’ day, many make the grave error of seeing law itself as the problem. This would be like blaming red stop lights and taxes as being the problem with the nasty citizen in the example above. The issue, however, wasn't external laws but rather his internal heart condition. And because the citizen kept external manmade ordinances, he maintained a false sense of security and had no desire to change. But just as we read in the news too often, malice stored up in one's heart can easily lead to one breaking the very law he or she once took pride in keeping. So we see law itself having no power to change one from within (Romans 8:3) and it simultaneously being the very standard by which a lawbreaker will be found guilty and condemned.
To solve this problem, YHVH sent His Son Yeshua (Jesus) to live, die, be raised to life, and then His Spirit made available to us so that we are empowered to keep the commandments of God. With God's Spirit in us, we desire to keep His commands, with or without manmade ordinances (John 14:15-21; 1 John 5:2-4). And this is one reason an overly negative view of law & order is so misguided. Making matters worse is the fact that this anti-law sentiment often includes the very Law of God; the law YHVH our Elohim desires to write on the hearts of His people (read Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31; Hebrews 8).
In conclusion: Just as there is a difference between democratic laws of a state versus federal and international laws, there is a difference between the theocratic Book of the Law and oral traditions which governed the nation of Israel versus the enduring Law of God which is still in effect for all of humanity today...for our own good! (see Deuteronomy 10:12&13)
Related Articles: Two Sides of the Same Coin; Double Jeopardy