Why doesn't Christianity include more laws?

By Maggie Peil

Why doesn't Christianity contain everyday laws? Inheritance, crime penalties and so on? Why were there so many laws for the Israelites and so few for Christians? The answer to these questions highlight the change in the way God interacts with us that came with the arrival of Jesus.

PRACTICAL. If you've ever tried to write guidelines for a group of people, you have encountered the problem of precision vs. comprehensiveness. For instance, the child fostering guidelines in the state I live in are long and detailed (precise). Each year, a new precise guideline gets added that addresses specific violations. The guideline gets longer, but it is not really much more effective. There is one comprehensive guideline that would suffice for all others: Don't do stuff that hurts the kids. But that is too broad — people can't agree on what that means.

Since people can't agree on what is good and what is bad, they rely on specific laws and specific interpretations of the law. This is how most democratic legal systems work, and it is why we have levels of courts that review previous decisions on appeal. The more problems we face, the more laws we have. The more legal cases we have, the more interpretive precedents we have. It always gets more complex, not less complex.

SPIRITUAL — OLD TESTAMENT. The development of laws in the Old Testament follows the same progression: simple to complex. In the beginning of Genesis there was only one law — don't eat the fruit of one tree. People couldn't even follow that one! It was specific and clear, but they played with the interpretation of it and willfully violated it. By the end of the first five books there are over 600 specific laws governing the Israelites. They covered all kinds of topics. There were rules about inheritance (see the Got Questions article on inheritance ). There were rules and penalties for various crimes (see Genesis 9, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy). The Old Testament text includes the laws "Love God" and "Love your neighbor" many times over, but people still broke all the laws and relied on the specific laws for enacting penalties.

The Old Testament Law showed that people can not (and will not) follow the laws given to us. The Law showed that we are hopelessly sinful, and the Law has no way of changing us to be "good."

SPIRITUAL — NEW TESTAMENT. In the New Testament the laws go from complex back to simple. There is now only one law: believe in Jesus by faith, through God's grace. The New Testament contains the wonderful message that by dying for us, Jesus took on the penalty for all the laws we break. When we receive God's forgiveness by believing in Jesus and the work He did for us, the Law is fulfilled for us. We Christians are now free from the requirements and penalties of the Old Testament Law. This doesn't mean we are perfect, it just means our destiny isn't governed by a set of regulations.

In addition to setting us free from the Law, Jesus gives us a non-legal system for changing our hearts and our behavior. The process is often referred to as "sanctification" (see the article on sanctification). As we study God's Word and get closer to Him, we get more able to love God and our neighbors. As we practice the art of being a Christian, God changes us and makes us more like Him. In this life we will never be perfect at this, but we can get better. And when we finally see Jesus "face-to-face" then we will finally be changed to be like him. (1 Corinthians 13:12, 1 John 3:2)

CONCLUSION. Why doesn't Christianity contain everyday laws? Well, in a sense it does. It gives us moral codes that should guide our everyday actions: Love God. Love others. Be more like Jesus. There are suggestions for specific every-day behaviors in the New Testament, but they don't carry the force and penalty of laws, because God knows we can't ever be good enough just by trying to be good. Instead, the Bible gives us a chance to let God change us from the inside out (sanctification).

When people asked Jesus what are the greatest laws, he repeated what is in the Old Testament: "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." Jesus explained that the Ten Commandments from Genesis apply to our thoughts. If we are angry, we murder. If we lust, we commit adultery. In other words, there is no way we can ever pretend that we are capable of following the laws. This reminds us that we really need Jesus. In daily application, I have heard that we should be guided by the greatest laws. We should look at each situation and ask ourselves: "Do my actions show love for God? Do they show love for my neighbor?" These overarching questions can guide us, but it is still important to realize we will never be perfect. We must realize our need for Jesus and seek God's spiritual discernment and guidance. As we do this, over time, God changes us to be more like Him

Our governments do have specific laws and penalties. But no matter how good those laws are, or how many laws there are, people will always violate them and more laws will be needed. As Christians, we are fortunate that our religion recognizes this hopeless situation and doesn't try to regulate us with specific detailed requirements and penalties. Instead, Christianity provides the only eternal solution: Jesus Christ. Our faith in Jesus saves us and gives us a way to change for the better.

Image Credit: Jason Mrachina; "Iowa State Capitol - Law Library"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Jesus-Christ  | Sin-Evil

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Published 1-19-15