Holy Spirit – The Revelation of God’s Laws
Holy Spirit – The Revelation of God’s Law
How can two walk together unless they agree?
Why was God’s Law in the Old Testament given as the first foundation?
The first foundation of God’s revelation for abundant life is His Law. The opening line of the Gospel of John is: “In the beginning was the Word.” The Greek word for the phrase “In the beginning“ is “arche” can also be translated as “the first principle”: “The Word, since the beginning was the first principle”. The Law or the Word of God is given to humanity as the first foundation on which the Kingdom of God will be established. Hebrews 11:3 says, “the universe was established by the Word of God.” The Word is given to establish a set of principles through which God and man can interact. If humanity is to live by the first principle of creation, (which is the Word) humanity will be at peace with God and in harmony one with another.
Through the first principle of creation, which is the Word, man may live abundantly in the world which God has created. However, man desires to live autonomously, independent of the principles that God has given. He expresses his rebellion by eating from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. By doing so, he establishes his own standard of good and evil apart from God’s first principle. Because humanity decides to leave God and establishes his own laws, dissonance, suffering and death spread throughout humanity.
There is only one standard under creation: the first standard is symbolized by “the tree of life”. Rebellion and the deception of darkness is symbolized by “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. God has since been trying to restore the first principle into the heart of man. So that humanity in repentance may live abundantly under God’s creation.
In this chapter, we will discuss the following:
1. What are the purposes for the giving of God’s Word?
2. What are the 10 commandments? How are they relevant to us today?
3. What are the benefits of living according to the laws of God?
4. What is the relationship between our faith in Christ and obedience to the law?
5. What are the teachings in the law which will prosper us today as it has prospered the Jewish nation?
The Old Testament: The revelation of God through the Word and the fear of God
In Exodus 19:5-6, God speaks to the people of Israel, “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” God reveals Himself to His people through the Law; the Law becomes the meeting point between God and man in this world which God has created. God said, “if you will indeed obey My voice… then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples.” (Exodus 19:5). God establishes the premise that if man wants to be in a relationship with Him, man must first agree with His laws and walk in them. This is most fundamental in any relationship; an agreement based on a set of common values applicable to both parties. The prophet Amos asks, “how could two parties walk together unless they have a point of agreement” (Amos 3:3). Through the Law, God reveals the principles and values that He stands for. Even among friends, respect for another is based on mutually agreed laws that must never be transgressed. For example, stealing from one another and gossiping cannot be tolerated among friends. Likewise, as we revere God as our Creator, His laws must be respected at all times. Our response to God’s giving of His law is reverence and fear (figure 3.0).
Moses again speaks to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 10:12 to instill in them a right response towards God’s laws, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.“ To fear God means to have reverential awe of God because of who He is as Creator and who we are as His creatures. When we are faced with temptations that appeal to our pride and the lust of the flesh, we choose to obey God’s laws because we revere Him. Reverence is the first motivation of obedience even though it may go against our fleshly desires.
The Law as given in the 10 Commandments
By knowing God’s Law, man can begin to walk with God in agreement. The 10 Commandments is the essence of the Law given to Moses which contains the principles concerning people’s relationship with God and with one another (Exodus 20:1-7). The “Law” as used in this book, refers to the writings of God’s acts in history as recorded from Genesis to Jesus’s ascension to the Father. The “laws” refers specifically to the precepts that pertain to moral living. Hence, the laws are part of the Law of God. The 10 Commandments function like a summary of the laws or values that concern man’s relationship with God and with one another. As the law undergirds man’s relationship with God, man needs to know and meditate on them so that he may not sin. If we do not agree with His principles, we cannot walk with God, nor develop a relationship with Him. In the context of human relationships, rules and principles (spoken or unspoken) undergird the bonds of marriage, friendship, and superior-subordinate relationships so that men may not transgress one another’s boundaries. These principles apply not only to humanity but to God Himself. Jesus lives according to God’s laws, but the laws also requires Him to die in order for man’s sins to be forgiven!
After Moses dies, God speaks to Joshua saying, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (Joshua 1:8). Joshua is instructed to meditate on the law and do all that is written in it. During this phase, relationship with God is expressed through knowing His law and obeying them (figure 3.1). Hence, believers need to spend time studying and meditating on the Law of God. Relationship with God begins with reverential fear towards Him.
Moses’s Law is a set of instructions which God gives to Moses in order to govern the young nation of Israel. It is used to establish civil laws as well as the nation’s constitution. Bearing that in mind, Moses’s Law no longer carries a threat of punishment for believers today, but functions as a guide and personal discipline towards abundant living. The 10 commandments of Moses are recorded in Exodus 20:1-17. The first four commandments concern how humanity should relate with God:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
God alone must be revered and worshiped and the worship of other gods is forbidden. The heart of this commandment is to live by the principles and the will of God alone. In other words, to fear Him as the sovereign God and Master of all creation. The act of worship is an expression of absolute obedience and allegiance towards God. Transgressing this law causes the person to stray from the destiny and blessings that God has ordained.
2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.
Dealings with other gods or evil spirits and communicating with them through idols is forbidden. This commandment forbids association and communion with spirits other than the Spirit of God. The allure of idolatry comes from pleasures of darkness and manipulation. An idolatrous person encapsulates his obsession and directs his affections towards an object (an idol). In chinese cultures, a lover of money worships “cai shen ye” (财神爷）the god of money. A person of violence worships “guan gong” (关公）the God of war. In essence, the root of idolatry is the pleasures of the flesh and pride of life. Addictions to nicotine and alcohol are prohibited as function as roadways and bridges to more hardcore substances like various kinds of narcotics and drugs. Sexual addictions through pornography or a special attachment to an object are signs of idolatry. In addition, People who practice witchcraft think they can manipulate evil spirits to obtain power for their personal gain. However, many become possessed by these evil spirits because they transgress this very important law. The apostle Paul said, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Colossians 3:5. The heart of this commandment is personal holiness, and reverence towards God in worship.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
This commandment requires the name of God to be revered and treated with sanctity. Any man who professes falsely to be speaking on God’s behalf transgresses this law. Job’s friends while speaking presumptuously on God’s behalf, are later found guilty and chastised by Him,
“Are you defending God with lies? Do you make your dishonest arguments for his sake? Will you slant your testimony in his favor? Will you argue God’s case for him? What will happen when he finds out what you are doing? Can you fool him as easily as you fool people?” Job 13:7-9.
The prophet who ministers must be doubly sure when he says, “Thus says the Lord…” The Law stipulated, “But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name … must die.” Deuteronomy 18:20
Using God’s name as a witness in false promises or making covenants lightly is forbidden. All kinds of covenants, contracts involving assets or verbal promises inevitably include God as administrator and arbitrator whether or not he invokes the name of God. As God is the ultimate judge and administrator of all contracts and covenants, all who enter into a covenant or contract with another have to bear in mind the severity of a breach of trust. The heart of this particular commandment is faithfulness to commitments. God will reward those who keep the promises that they have made and punish those who breach them. Even in daily conversations, Jesus said, “let your statement be, Yes! or No! Anything beyond these is of evil.” (Matthew 5:37). The apostle James said, “but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” (James 5:12). This law also warns against contracts and covenants that are forbidden by God, e.g. covenants made with other gods or criminal agreements with ungodly people. Such covenants and contracts must never be made.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
We, as the people of God must set aside a day, a rest day (Sabbath) which is holy and dedicated to worship of God. Keeping the Sabbath day includes offerings and sacrifices. The heart of this commandment is to make the worship and service of God the highest call of life. Putting the worship of God as a divine activity above all other activities reflects our attitude of honour and gratitude towards God. As God is the supreme judge and creator of all things, He must hold a special and holy place in our heart that none could replace. Therefore, the Sabbath Day is holy, and must be set apart for God and His purposes.
The other six commandments mandate how humanity should interact with one another:
5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
The heart of this commandment is respect for those who preside over us and who have given their lives to raise us up. Our parents will grow old and become incapacitated in their basic functions. However, this command calls us to honor our parents with dignity and grace, not by virtue of their works alone, but by their position. They are to be honored until the last days of their lives.
6. You shall not murder.
The heart of this commandment is that one must never take vengeance, for God will vindicate the righteous. 2 Thessalonians 1:6 says, “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you.” One who has a murderous attitude is consumed with so much hatred, he disregards authority and will personally see to the destruction of his enemies. A murderous person has to recognize that God is in control and will in God’s time vindicate him. He has to recognize that revenge is a sin that God will judge. What should we do when we are unjustly treated? The apostle Paul wrote,
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.’ But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him A drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
Jesus set the example when He bore with ungrateful sinners and suffered on their behalf. All men are sinners and worthy of death, but if God has forgiven us, we should likewise forgive our fellow men. Forgiveness is the act of releasing someone’s debt to God and pray for his repentance. In doing so, he also releases hatred, and the burden of executing justice (on the wrongdoer) to the Judge of all. Forgiveness does not mean exoneration for the perpetrator, it frees us from taking matters into our own hands. Jesus, in a parable warned against unforgiveness, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
The heart of this commandment is really about personal sanctity and faithfulness. A person who is holy and set apart for God is also a faithful person at a human level, e.g. in a marriage relationship. This commandment warns against any person whose heart is wandering and unfaithful. An adulterous person has no regard for covenantal commitment and whose appetite for lust is never satisfied. He disrespects the boundaries and dignity of others by manipulating them. His heart is full of deceit thinking he has done no wrong. An adulterous person must come to an awareness of these dangers and recognise the evil that is standing at the door. Adultery is not as some would trivially regard as a careless mistake caused by the passion of the moment, but an evil and deceitful condition of the heart. An adulterous person must be aware of evil at the door that will bring sudden destruction to all inhabitants of the house. Only by committing his life to God and to hold himself accountable to mature believers, can he restore his marriage and his own salvation.
8. You shall not steal.
Stealing is equivalent to cheating. Stealing often occurs when the transgressor thinks no one will know about it. Hence, he puts up a facade in public while committing shameful acts in private. Stealing is not an act, but a mindset that is a guiding principle to all he does. What starts out with pilferage will spiral towards full scale fraud and eventually death. The heart of this commandment is in fact honesty and integrity – stealing is dishonesty. The episode in Acts 5 that involves the deceit of Ananias and his wife attest to the danger of dishonesty and irreverence towards God. Peter says, “Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” (Acts 5:4). The heart of this commandment is in fact honesty and integrity. A person who steals need to know that what is hidden will eventually be exposed. Jesus said,
“For there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-27)
No one can escape the eyes of God and all will be judged according to their works.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Bearing false witness against your neighbor is equivalent to vilifying the reputation of others through untrue or exaggerated testimonies. Technically speaking, regardless of the authenticity of a statement, if the intent is to injure or to sow discord among the community, he is considered a transgressor of this commandment. Jesus said the mouth speaks out of the heart (Matthew 12:34). On the Day of Judgment, the transgressor shall give an account of every careless word spoken (Matthew 12:36). The essence of this commandment is truthfulness and graciousness of heart and tongue. The apostle Peter urges all believers to spur each other towards forgiveness and not to expose another’s sins out of vengeance (1 Peter 4:8). The apostle Paul taught,
29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30… 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender- hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:29-31)
We should not speak out of anger or bitterness, but only out of kindness and forgiveness.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.
This commandment warns against covetousness and envy. To covet is to have a strong desire for something that does not belongs to you. A covetous person may end up stealing his neighbor’s property, committing adultery or murder. The heart of this commandment is to live a life of thanksgiving and contentment. Jesus said,
“Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Hence, we have to constantly remind ourselves that our greatest blessings are not found in earthly possessions but in our inheritances in heaven. Again, we could see in 1 Timothy 6:6-8,
6 But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7 For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. (1 Timothy 6:6-8)
A contented person is one who is most blessed, for he is able to enjoy what he already has without worrying about what he has not.
Many cannot feel God’s love nor sense His presence because they have not made up their minds to follow God’s ways wholeheartedly. An unreserved commitment to obey God’s laws and fear Him is the first step towards a more profound relationship with Him. Martin Luther was a 16th century reformer who releases many from the erroneous and false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of his time. He proclaims that salvation is not earned by good works but received only as a free gift of God’s grace through repentance and faith. He challenges the authority of the Pope by teaching that the Word is the only source of divine revelation. Yet every morning, he will rise and pray with his children by reciting the 10 Commandments, the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. His influence and success is accorded to his love for God and his unwavering obedience to God’s laws.
I remembered that when my brothers and I were younger. My mum was the typical Asian mother who was not used to making explicit expression of her love and affection towards her children. We lived in a culture where vocal praises and affirmation were rare. Much value was placed instead on concrete acts of love and obedience. One Mother’s Day, we bought her a gift that was worthed a considerable amount money as a display of our love and appreciation for her. She received it and said, “If you all truly love me, you will remember what I have told you and do it.” This was also the cultural norm during the time of Moses. People displayed their love for God through remembering His laws and walking in them.
In the Old Testament, human relationship with God begins with a set of common values. These values are inculcated into the mind through study and meditation on God’s Law. The mind and analytical ability (IQ) becomes the main faculty in which man connects with God. The emphasis here is in knowing His laws (figure 3.1) and obeying them. The next section explores God’s purposes and intentions in which He gave the laws.
What are the purposes of God’s laws?
God’s laws when obeyed protects us from the attacks of the devil
Moses’s Law contains the precepts and boundaries for the protection for God’s people. It defines the rules that must not be broken and boundaries that must never be crossed. If the laws are transgressed, the sinner will in no uncertain terms be exposed to dangers and the devil’s attacks. We can say that the 10 commandments define the boundaries between God’s Kingdom and the devil’s territory (figure 3.2).
God’s precepts protect God’s people from the powers of darkness seeking to destroy them. If a believer transgresses the laws, the devil may take opportunity to attack his possessions and even his physical body but short of taking his life. Only because of Jesus’s act of justification (through the cross) on behalf of humanity, the devil has lost the authority to take away any person’s life without God’s permission.
This principle can be illustrated in an episode where King David murdered Uriah and stole his wife. When David confessed to the prophet Nathan that he has sinned against God. God forgives David’s sins and spares his life. However, David’s first-born child must die as result of his transgressing the boundary of the law thus creating an occasion for the devil to attack him (2 Samuel 12:13-14). Because of God’s expressed forgiveness towards David, the child’s death is not recompense nor is it act of discipline. But rather, it is due to David’s exposure to the enemies of God that inevitably causes the death of his son.
13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14)
Throughout history, strings of prominent men in authority; politicians, pastors, and business people have been convicted of various crimes. Most of them have committed sins relating to the passions of the flesh, pride of life and greed that leads to financial corruption. Reputations were ruined and careers crushed in irreparable state, dismay and regret. Although they seek forgiveness with tears, their families and the public will not forgive them the way God does. Proverbs 5:8-14 warns against associating with an adulterous person,
8 Keep your way far from her (adulterous person) and do not go near the door of her house, 9 or you will give your vigour to others and your years to the cruel one; 10 And strangers will be filled with your strength and your hard-earned goods will go to the house of an alien; 11 And you groan at your final end, when your flesh and your body are consumed; 12 And you say, “How I have hated instruction! And my heart spurned reproof! 13 “I have not listened to the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to my instructors! 14 “I was almost in utter ruin in the midst of the assembly and congregation.” (Proverbs 5:8-14)
God’s laws when obeyed make our path smooth and prosperous
According to Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” God’s Law and the laws it contains define the boundaries and a divine pathway towards peace and prosperity. The Law contains pure wisdom for abundant living and eternal life. Knowing God’s Law give us the necessary wisdom to prosper in all that we do (figure 3.3).
When the law is given, Moses tells the people to choose the way of the laws because it will bring them blessings and longevity in the land. Moses said,
“19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
What role do the laws or the 10 commandments play in the light of Christ’s work on the cross? Does Christ’s sacrifice nullify God’s purposes in the laws? No! On the contrary, Christ’s work on the cross frees us and empowers us to walk in the laws of God. God will not negate the laws and the systems that He establishes since the beginning of creation. The fact is that believers and non-believers alike are subject to the same rules and principles and all will face the earthly consequences of the choices they make. However, Christ’s work on the cross breaks the bondage of sin and frees man to live wisely. What differentiates believers from non-believers are their motivations for obedience. Believers obey primarily because of reverence towards God (or fear of God) despite circumstances that may work against them. Non-believers, on the other hand tend to be motivated by more pragmatic concerns; which is the cost and benefit analysis of things. However, the apostle Paul says concerning non-believers that although they do not possess the written Law of God, but they do what the law requires by doing what their conscience tells them. Hence, by their works, they show the law as written in their hearts. The apostle Paul wrote,
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (Romans 2:14-15)
The outcome of the fear of God as perceived by Old Testament (Old Covenant) believers is the hope of blessings and earthly prosperity (figure 3.4).
This is the essence of the Old Covenant: obedience and the fear of God leads to blessings and prosperity. God said to the people,
“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)
The reverse is also true: disobedience and rebellion invariably leads to curses and poverty (Deuteronomy 28:15). Many churchgoers suppose by virtue of their status as God’s children are placed on the inside track of life giving them a well-entitled lead. Hence, they presume they can get ahead without working as hard as their non-Christian compatriots. Students often come and ask me to pray for their examinations even after they have sat for their papers. They ask me to specifically pray that God will “miraculously” alter the results in their favor. They are foolish in thinking that God will surely cut them some “slack” and grant them unfair advantage just because they are churchgoers. Similarly, many adults think because God has given them divine “rest,” they no longer need to plan ahead as their non-believing friends do. They suppose their faith gives them privilege to bypass the natural principles of this world.
God, by His wisdom founded the earth and its systems and by His understanding He has established the universe (Proverbs 3:19). Believers and non-believers alike are subjected to the same spiritual and physical laws and systems that God has created. All who wish to prosper must walk according to God’s laws, for the believers first, then the unbelievers. The apostle Paul wrote,
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. (Romans 2:9-11)
In the above passage, Paul explains that both the Jew (those who know God) and the Greek (those who do not know God) are subject to the same standard. For all are judged according to what they do; tribulation to those who do evil and honor to those who practice the truth. God is not biased towards a certain racial heritage and even religious affiliation. A true belief system (regardless of its religious or cultural roots) must invariably produce fruits of righteousness, for there is no partiality with God.
With regards to those who know God laws and do not live in them, God will discipline them like a loving father (Hebrews 12:6). Yet the unchangeable Word of God speaks of the blessings of one who walks in God’s laws. The Psalmist wrote,
How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. (Psalm 119:1)
And again in Proverbs 3:13-16, it is clearly written:
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom. And the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; In her left hand are riches and honor. (Proverbs 3:13-16)
In studying and meditating on God’s Word, we integrate divine wisdom into our thought processes. The Jews are one of the most brilliant people in the world because the Law of God is inculcated into their culture and mind-set early in their childhood. By studying and meditating on God’s Law, we etch God’s wisdom and Kingdom’s values into our mind so that we may not be deceived by the devil. The devil starts by first confusing the boundaries of truth and falsehood leading to deception; and deception leads to transgression. Transgression is an act of crossing over to the enemies’ territory where there is no protection against the devil’s advances. Many great men and women have fallen, families broken, and organizations crushed because of transgressions.
I knew a minister who worked among the prostitutes. He was a compassionate man, and his heart went out to many of these women. However, he was deceived thinking that the women needed his affection as part of their healing process. What began as compassion led to perverted passion and confusion. Their words were sweet and flattering, playing into his secret need for affirmation and lust. He committed adultery with some of them, which inevitably led to blackmail that destroyed not only his ministry but also his family.
The heart carries the raw energy of passion. If not guided and girded by the Law, sin lies at the door and destruction becomes imminent. Meditation on the Law surfaces and eradicates the confusion and deception of the devil, sharpening our discernment, uncovering secret passions and strengthening our resolve to walk in the truth. Here is a popular demonic deception: the end justifies the means and no one will know! But the truth is: the end does not justify the means and what is done in the dark will be brought to light!
Now, the mind is the beachhead of man. Here, the Kingdom of God and its abundance begin to germinate and grow. In the context of a battle strategy, the beachhead is a designated area on a hostile shore which when captured, facilitates the continual landing of troops and logistics. It also provides a holding area, a launch pad for subsequent offensive operations. In a battle plan, the beachhead must first be secured before further operations can be staged. The mind of man is the beachhead of life and must first be secured by the Word of God. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that before we can walk in the will of God to experience His favor and goodness, the mind must first be renewed according to the Law of God.
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed in the renewal of your mind, so that you may live in the will of God, that which is good and favorable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 Paraphrased).
God’s laws create structures necessary for a nation to progress and prosper
There is an incident which occurred in a local public transport company. This helps me appreciate the importance of upholding the rule of law and to understand that its implications to the society in Singapore. 150 foreign workers from China staged a strike resulting in transportation services being shut down and businesses being interrupted throughout the country. Disputes are about pay and living conditions in the dormitory. It also reveals deep-seated management problems within the company. Because the law in Singapore prohibits strikes, 29 workers were repatriated back to China, five are charged in court and the rest are given warnings. A swift enforcement of the law in Singapore stabilises the society making it what it is today. Hence, the law is our friend, and not our foe in establishing God’s Kingdom in our nation. Therefore, believers need to establish an accurate understanding of the role of the Old Testament laws which help prosper Israel, which also forms Singapore’s civil laws today. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!” (Galatians 3:21). The law serves to protect the rights of individuals; but as the society develops along with the civil mindset, the strict enforcement of law also becomes less conspicuous.
The laws in the days of Moses without a doubt contribute to the prosperity of Israel and many surrounding nations. It has also been instrumental in forming the culture and civil laws of Israel today. We must understand that the purpose of law is to give society structure and enforces righteous behaviour. According to Galatians 3:19, the laws are given for the purpose of deterring people from transgressions. Hence, the Old Testament laws function as deterrence against transgressions. Without it, the people of Israel would have destroyed themselves just like the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is important to note that the law serves as deterrence to crime, but not as cure to society’s ills; humanity needs a genuine change of heart through faith. With the regeneration of the human heart, there can be no real peace or prosperity. The apostle Paul wrote,
The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)
According to this verse, the law functions as a “tutor” to deter destructive sins while awaiting the revelation of Jesus. Faith in essence refers to regeneration of heart towards godliness or righteousness. It is through man’s repentance and in recognition of God as his Lord, God adopts him as His son: justified by faith.
Figure 3.5 illustrates the role of the law and how grace works in tandem with the law to establish God’s Kingdom. Beginning with Abraham, God gave him a promise that his descendants will be a great nation (Genesis 12:1-3).
Here, Abraham believes God and is subsequently considered as righteous by God in Genesis 15. Later on in Genesis 17:1-14, God gives Abraham the law of circumcision – the covenant of righteousness. The question is: what is the role of the Law of circumcision when Abraham is already considered as righteous by God? The law of circumcision does actually not impute righteousness, but rather it formed part of a legal structure within the constitution of Israel; it is an external sign of Abraham’s citizenship in God’s Kingdom. To illustrate the purpose of the Law of circumcision, we have the identity card in my country that is by law an external sign of citizenship. And being a citizen, I have privilege to subsidised housing, education and health care. Hence, laws are needed to create structure and to determine how national resources may be distributed fairly. Laws are needed to create order in the society and to protect the rights of individuals. Later on, God gives Moses a more comprehensive set of laws for the young nation of Israel. Hence, laws are not meant to make one righteous before God, but to maintain peace and order in the community and nation.
Salvation on the other hand is given apart from the law of circumcision and of Moses. Salvation is the conversion of a person from the position of a slave to a son. Referring to the figure 3.5, many years after the promise is given to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), Jesus (the descendant of Abraham) (see Genesis 15:13, Galatians 3:16) comes as a man and gives Himself as a sin offering for the world. Those who believe in Jesus by living according the truth shall be blessed according to Abraham’s promise. Hence, salvation comes not through conformity and observance of the laws, but through faith expressed through a regenerated life. Nevertheless, the laws will continue to serve as a guide and discipline for all believers and non-believers alike. Galatians 3:12 says, “However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, he who practices them shall live by them.” The term “practices” in the Greek also means, “committed to”. It means that even though the laws could not justify us (“is not of faith”), it serves as a structure and order to undergird society. Based on this legal structure, we need to commit ourselves to live by the law (“he who practices them shall live by them”).
How does grace works in tandem with the law? Grace breaks the bondage of sin over believers and imputes Christ’s attributes into them so that they may live the lawfully. However, it is not by the letter of the law, but by the Spirit of the law, which is love. The apostle Paul in Romans 7:6 says that those who are saved by grace, will no longer live by the letter of the law but by the spirit of the law. A person who lives by the letter of the law may fulfill the law’s legal requirement, but love and truth are absent. For example, a businessman could find a way to pay lesser taxes by using “creative” accounting methods. He can delay revenues and accelerate expenses so as to present a lower taxable profit. On the surface, his books may pass the audit test, but his heart is filled with greed and deceit. Such is one who lives by the code or letter of the law, but not by the Spirit of the law – love and truth.
What major lessons can we learn from the Law?
The Law contains the history of the Patriarchs of Israel and has been the foundation upon which the Old and New Testament believers have lived and prospered. There are precious lessons from these Old and New Testament believers which we can learn from today.
1. In order to succeed in life, we need a vision that can change the world
The testimony of Abraham shows us how we should define our vision for our life, family and work. In the Old Testament, the writings of the prophets set the foundations and framework concerning the Kingdom of God. The prophets of the Old Testament have seen and recorded the visions of God’s Kingdom so that God’s people may exercise hope and see those prophecies fulfilled. Using these prophecies as guidelines, believers today can derive their personal life vision. Perhaps the classic example may be that of Abraham who receives his vision from God while being a resident in Haran. While the people in Haran are busy with their own lives, God spoke to Abraham,
1 Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation. And I will bless you. And make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you. And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3)
What can we learn from God’s opening vision to Abraham? In the first verse, God tells Abraham to go forth from his country, family, and community to the land that God will show him. God asks Abraham to leave his hometown, but what God is really asking is for him to embark on the task of building God’s Kingdom. The land that God is to show him, the “Promised Land” is an earthly form of God’s kingdom. The first feature or the foundation of Abraham’s vision concerns the establishment of God’s Kingdom through the divine word. Likewise, the foundation of our personal vision needs to be concerned with the establishment of God’s Kingdom through the word. No matter what profession we belong to, we build the Kingdom by first living according to Kingdom’s values. For many people, their life comfort, luxuries and personal significance form their vision. One popular vision among young people today is to achieve financial independence at an early age – to be come rich and retire at the age of 45. Abraham prospered because he puts his personal agenda aside and adopts God’s grand vision. We too must put aside our self-centered agenda and live to establish God’s Kingdom.
Another distinctive of Abraham’s vision is influence and greatness. The second verse, “And I will make you a great nation…” depicts God’s promise to magnify Abraham’s name and make him the father of a great nation. Abraham it to focus on expanding his influence and to let his fame spread throughout the earth. Many believers have a tendency to shy away from being known. However, any message spoken cannot be divorced from the identity of the messenger. Our blessings and our fame are a result of the Kingdom’s values at play and God being glorified in the process. Hence, dignifying and glorying our name is a feature of the vision of God. The greatness of our name is the reflection of the greatness of God!
Yet another distinctive of the vision is this: Abraham is to be to others a channel of blessing from God. God said, “You shall be a blessing” and He continued “And I will bless those who bless you… And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed”. God wants Abraham to be a channel of blessing beginning with those who will work with him. Abraham is to create networks consisting of those who cherish the values of God’s Kingdom. It is through these networks that the families of the earth will be blessed. Part of the believer’s vision is to create networks that expand beyond his present spheres of influence through which the values and the blessings of God may be perpetuated.
To summarize this, our life purpose is to establish God’s Kingdom where we are planted, by rising up to become a channel of blessing by modelling the righteousness Christ. In the process, our name will be known and respected by many.
My wife and I were expatriates in the United States and were given the opportunity to work and further our career there. However, God had put His plans and desires in our hearts. He spoke of doing a mighty work of healing and revival in Asia. Life in the United States had been very comfortable and enriching. We enjoyed the road trips up into the beautiful countryside. The culture is exciting and diverse, giving us much opportunity to grow. But, we both knew that our life goals have never been for personal gain and comfort. So, we returned to Singapore, and I became a Pastor four years later. My wife and I had decided to become volunteers in the church. The Lord saw our faith and blessed us richly in our investments and caused us to be a blessing to others. We have since founded three congregations (two in Singapore and One in Myanmar), an orphanage and an evangelistic movement in Myanmar. God’s laws helped us see and understand the vision of the Kingdom. We have learned that life is too precious to be consumed by our petty ambitions and comfort, but only a vision as big as God will do.
2. The keys to greatness are generosity and the fear of God
The Gospels and Wisdom writings of the bible show us how our attitudes can be shaped for greatness. In one of Jesus’s teachings, He taught about the virtues that bring glory and greatness. What virtues are Jesus talking about? His sacrificial love for God and for others! In the following passage, Peter, Jesus’s disciple, comments on the incident where a rich young ruler refuses to share his wealth with the poor. When Jesus expresses disappointment at the failure of the young man to receive riches and glory, Peter capitalises on the fact that he has left everything to follow Jesus.
27 Then Peter said to Him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?” 28 And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last; and the last, first. (Matthew 19:27-30)
In response to Peter, Jesus says that if he will follow the manner of life that Jesus lives, he will sit on thrones and judge, depicting a position of honour and authority. Jesus, who pours out His life as a living sacrifice for God and for humanity earns Him a position of utmost glory. If in the course of our work and ministry, we will put on the virtues of Christ in sacrificial service for others, we will in due time be glorified and honoured.
Jesus emphasises the attitude of sacrificial love in leaving the comfort of houses and relationships for the sake of God’s work. All who make personal sacrifices and venture out of their comfort zone in response to God’s call, will receive much more than what they currently possess. This attitude should be reflected in the philosophy of our work: to make the world a better place at the expense of personal gain. Honour and prosperity are the by-products of a righteous work attitude. A righteous attitude towards work attracts the wisdom of God that will enable us to see hidden opportunities. However, many are distracted by the love of money and fame which hinders the flow of wisdom.
The Psalms and Proverbs consistently show two virtues accompanying those who are prospering: generosity and the fear of God. The Psalms are written in an era when King David, the man after God’s heart, reigned with power and glory. During King David’s reign, Israel is in a state of revival and is respected by the nations. The Psalmist writes: the fear of God brings enduring wealth and greatness to those who possess it. In other words, those who love the commandments of God and do them will experience perpetual blessedness and wealth.
How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. (Psalms 112:1-3)
King David, the most famous and successful king in Israel is one to whom God gives the promise of an everlasting Kingdom. Although David is God fearing, he is nonetheless fallible. Although he commits murder and adultery, he experiences the mercies and the forgiveness of God. Many churchgoers today, having claim to have understood the grace of God, they have no fear for God nor for His laws! Despite the revelations of Christ and the Spirit, they do not love God with all their heart, soul and might, but instead despise God’s grace to satisfy their earthly appetites. King David testifies how great one will become if he heeds the commandments of God and seeks to fulfil God’s Kingdom’s purposes. Psalms 27 is the prayer and cry of David during a time of great adversity.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me. 8 When You says, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” 9 Do not hide Your face from me. Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me. O God of my salvation! 10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me. But the Lord will take me up. 11 Teach me Your way, O Lord. And lead me in a level path because of my foes. (Psalms 27:7-11)
We can see David’s thirst for God (v.7-8), his hope in God (v.9), his security in God (v.10) and his fear of God through obedience to His laws (v.11). King David is an example of how even without the revelation of Christ, one can rise to such heights of glory and favour. How much more, when believers of the New Testament, having possessed the revelation of Christ and the baptism of the Spirit avail us greater glory than that of King David’s.
Generosity towards those in need is another virtue that is frequently mentioned in the Bible. The Proverbs are written in an era of great wisdom. King Solomon, the wisest King in the history of Israel have come to the conclusion that the generous man will prosper. The favour of God will come upon those who seek the good of others. In my daily decisions of work and family, I endeavour to seek the benefit of others above my own. People love generous people! They will be distinguished and exalted. The passage below reinforces the principle of prosperity:
The generous man will be prosperous. And he who waters will himself be watered. He who withholds grain, the people will curse him. But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it. He who diligently seeks good seeks favor, but he who seeks evil, evil will come to him. (Proverbs 11:25-27)
Despite man’s instinct towards selfishness, God is able to regenerate Him towards sacrificial love and generosity. Prosperity is not the goal, but it can be experienced as by-product of a generous heart.
3. A glass half-full or half-empty?
The prophets of the Old Testament show us how we should perceive life’s challenges and face them. The Prophet Isaiah said,
“Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new. Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
When we face life’s challenges, we must not call to mind the former things, nor wallow in the regrets of past misdeeds and failures. God appeals to our change of mindset when we consider the recurring or the unprecedented challenges of life. It is man’s base instinct to draw conclusions of life from our past experiences. As a result, many in choosing to interpret present circumstances with past experiences are blind to the opportunities of today. But God says that what has happened in the past must remain in the past. He is about to do something new in the future. The moment we make the decision to embrace a new destiny as defined by God’s word, the Spirit opens our eyes to perceive things differently. Isaiah, in the face of a national crisis, encourages the people to change their mindset and to prepare themselves to receive a new destiny. The promise of a new destiny is based on God’s unchanging love towards us. God is able to do the impossible when we are willing to change the way we perceive challenges according to God’s word!
Prophet Joel prophesies that God is about to restore His people for the years that the locust had eaten. God’s people will never be put to shame (Joel 2:25, 27). The prophet Joel and Isaiah’s vision came to pass when the Jewish nation regains her sovereignty in May 1948. Today, years after gaining independence as a nation, Israel ranks nineteenth in the United Nations’ Human Development Index. (Human Development Index is a way of measuring a nation’s development by indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income.) Singapore, having celebrated her 50th golden jubilee, with about 15% of its population who call themselves Christian, is ranked ninth. This testifies of what God will do for a people who are willing to embrace a new destiny unfazed by the failures of the past.
Moses, the great deliverer of Israel comes face to face with the Egyptian war machine when he is tasked to lead two million Israelites out of Egypt into the land that God has prepared for them. God does something unprecedented: ten cosmic miracles and the parting of the Red Sea. With God, there is always a whole new way to overcome our present challenges!
In the coming of Jesus, God does something new again. Instead of overpowering Israel’s enemies with physical might like that of King David and the prophets, Jesus gives Himself as a sacrifice. Even to this day, the Jewish people are still unable to see this new thing that Jesus has done because they are entrenched in the old ideologies. The death and the resurrection of Jesus breaks the bondage of sin and death over humanity.
In the coming of the Spirit, God does something new again on the Day of the Pentecost. The Spirit of Jesus is sent to dwell within man so that man can put on Christ’s virtues and work miracles like He does. Still, many people today do not accept the working of miracles as normality like Jesus does in the days of the gospel.
The Law teaches us to see all things in the light of the word and with eyes of faith. Thereafter, we will consider the wisdom accumulated from past experiences. Jesus, when He is rejected by His own people, sees with eyes of faith that the fields are ripe for reaping even though harvest is still some months away. Let the words of the Law condition our minds to perceive life’s challenges with God’s perspective. Then, we will surely experience the new, the supernatural, and the abundance of the Kingdom.
Here is a story of how Bata the shoe manufacturer becomes the shoes of Africa. At the end of the nineteenth century, just as colonial Africa is opening up as a market, all the manufacturers of shoes in Victorian England sent their representatives to Africa to see if there might be an opportunity there for their products. All duly come back in time with the same answer: “Nobody in Africa wears shoes. So, there is no market for our products there.” All, that is, save for the Bata representative. He comes back saying, “Nobody in Africa wears shoes. So, there’s a huge market for our products in Africa!” And that’s why signs promoting Bata appear all over Africa today, even in the remotest parts. It’s why Bata’s shoes are known as the shoes of Africa.
Bata’s story tells us that there is always another perspective that is higher and wiser than ours. If we will humble ourselves to tap into God’s mind and perspective, we can turn every misfortune into a golden opportunity.
4. If you are going through hell, keep going
Biblical and modern history shows us that perseverance in God’s promises guarantees our success. Frequently, the Old Testament and modern history show us that man’s perseverance in God’s promises guarantees success. The prophets persevere through the times of Israel’s captivities and suffer with the people. Simeon, a man in Jerusalem perseveres in looking for the coming of the Messiah believing he will not die before he sees Jesus (Luke 2:25). Modern day Israel perseveres through 2,000 years of political turmoil, persecution and anti-Semitism to become a sovereign nation in 1948.
A prominent testimony in Biblical history is Abraham who does not give up in hoping for a child even at the age of 100 when his body has given up its potency. God gives Abraham a promise that he will have a child and through him, his descendants will be as numerous as stars in the heaven (Genesis 15:4). When Abraham finally has his child Isaac, God instructs him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Abraham perseveres in obedience believing that God will resurrect Isaac from the dead so as to fulfill His promise of descendants (Hebrews 11:19). At knife point, God stops Abraham from killing his son and provides a lamb in his place.
The purpose for which God causes Abraham to take the journey of perseverance is so that we may emulate Abraham’s faith and receive the promise of greatness. The apostle Paul wrote,
For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, … those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)
Abraham’s vision is to build God’s Kingdom and his perseverance in God’s promises leads him to eternal glory. Likewise, all who persevere with the faith of Abraham will appropriate the promises of God and enter into eternal glory.
5. The 10 Commandments show how we can prosper by relating to God and with one another in love
The law of love is intrinsically contained in the 10 Commandments. The following is a written summary of the 10 commandments in the form of a prayer:
I will love God and live by His vision and principles alone. I will not defile myself by engaging in the pleasures of darkness and idolatry. I am committed to deliver on the promises that I have made before God and man. I will put the worship of God as the highest call of my life. I will honor my parents, and those who presided over me and took care of me. In every circumstance, I must never take matters into my own hands, for vengeance belongs to God and He will vindicate me. I will be faithful to my spouse and keep the sanctity of marriage. I will be honest and show moral excellence in my work and in my dealings with others. I will be gracious and truthful in all manner of speech to bring goodness and unity to the community. I will live a life of thanksgiving being contented and fulfilled with all that I possess. Amen.
At a glance…
The first foundation of God’s revelation for abundant life is His law and our response (to the giving of God’s Law) is to revere and to fear Him through obedience. The Word was given to humanity for the purpose of establishing God’s Kingdom and to establish a common set of values through which God and man can interact. However, mankind has decided to live autonomously apart from the laws of God. He expresses his rebellion by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By doing so, he resolves to establish his own set of laws apart from God’s truth. Ever since then, God has been trying to restore the truth in the heart of man so that humanity may prosper under God’s creation.
During Moses’s time, God reveals Himself to His people through the Law; the Law becomes a meeting point between God and man. The Law of the 10 Commandments that forms the basis of man’s relationship with God and with one another is given to Moses. God establishes the premise that if man wants to be in relationship with Him, he must first agree with His laws and walk in them. This is fundamental as all relationships must rest on a mutually agreed set of values. This agreements based on a set of common values are applicable to both parties. Having a wholehearted attitude in embracing God’s law is the first step towards a more profound relationship with Him. Many cannot sense God’s love and presence because they have not made up their minds to follow God’s ways wholeheartedly.
The Law of Moses defines the boundaries of God’s Kingdom; rules which must not be broken and the boundaries which must never be transgressed. The laws, when transgressed exposes the sinner to the devil’s attacks. The laws protect man from the powers of darkness that seek to destroy him. The Law also forms the foundation of the prophets’ vision of God’s Kingdom.
The Law or the Word of God defines the truth, a divine pathway towards abundant living. However, it is not only a pathway, it is pure wisdom and all who love wisdom shall prosper. Through study and meditation on the Law, we etch God’s wisdom and boundaries deeply into our mind so that we may not be deceived by the devil. Our faith in Jesus does not alter this divine pathway which God has established; it regenerates us and empowers us to walk this pathway.
The mind of man is the beachhead of life and must first be secured by the Word of God. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2 that before we can walk in the will of God and experience God’s favor and goodness, our mind must first be renewed according to the values of God.
The Law and the history of the Old Testament Patriarchs show us how we can define our personal vision for our life, family and work. It also shows us how we can shape our attitudes and life goals towards lasting prosperity. The Law shows us how we should perceive challenges in life and to rise above it. The Law shows us that perseverance in God’s promises guarantees success.
A glance at the next chapter…
Having understood that the Law as the first foundation for abundant life, we will now look at the second foundation of God’s revelation – His love. How does the second foundation interact with the first foundation?
Issues to ponder…
1. When your life comes to an end, how do you want to be remembered?
2. What laws in your view are more important as compared with the other laws in the Bible? What is the ultimate law undergirding all other laws?
3. How does the fear of God relate to the grace of God? How do they work together to bring you righteousness?
4. Why do believers sometimes give more attention to selected passages of the Bible? Some believers like to dwell on passages that speak about justification for example and less on passages that concern wisdom and sanctification. How should we be guided to read the Word holistically?