Recently my sister and her husband were driving home from an anniversary celebration, and in order to pass a car that was driving too slowly, she exceeded the speed limit. But those extra eight miles per hour broke the law, and the red-and-blue lights flashing in her rearview mirror confirmed it.
When the officer told her he’d have to give her a citation for speeding, she pleaded, “But Officer, can’t you just give me a warning? Today is our anniversary!”
To which he replied, “Congratulations, ma’am. But the law is the law and you have broken it. Have a good day.” And with that, he handed her the ticket.
Rules, rules, rules! We’ve had them imposed on us all our lives! When you were a toddler, your mother and father told you, “Don’t touch that!” or “Stop fussing!” As a kid, you were told to “eat your vegetables” and “do your chores.” In your teenage years, you were told that “curfew is midnight” and “clean your room!” Even as an adult, you still have rules. The law tells you to obey the speed limit, always pay your taxes on time, and report your true income and deductions on your tax return.
Do we need more laws?
Since we’ve had to live by rules all our lives, some people reject Christianity because they feel it’s nothing but more rules. Why did God give His moral law—the Ten Commandments? Did He want to make life less fun? Did He want to judge us and sentence us to eternal death?
When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them just one rule. “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden,” He said, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16, 17).
Just one rule! Yet they disobeyed. They ate from that tree, and sin entered our world.
The book of Genesis shows how quickly things went from bad to worse. It took only a few hundred years before “the LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (Genesis 6:5, 6).
Let’s say that you and your spouse carefully prepared to start a family. You spent time fixing up your home and decorating it for the special arrivals. Everything was perfect. As each child was born, you showed the child love and lived your lives as examples. But as the children got older, you saw that they started making some very bad choices. Finally, as parents, you decide, “We need to stop this. We need some rules for our children.”
That’s what God did with us. Exodus 20 tells how He met Moses on Mount Sinai and wrote out a detailed law for His children on stone tablets—with His own finger! It was a law of love, a law that taught them, and us, how to love God and others.
The first four commandments teach us how to love God by not having any other gods, not worshiping idols, not misusing God’s name, and remembering to spend time with Him on the Sabbath, His special day.
The last six commandments teach us how to love each other by honoring our parents, not killing people, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, and not coveting things that belong to someone else.
Benefits of keeping God’s law
There are wonderful benefits to keeping God’s law. When you follow it, you come closer to God because you’re living the way Jesus lived. You also come closer to those around you because you’re not hurting them. And you become free of carrying a heavy load of guilt from all the wrong choices you’ve made.
There have been times in my life when those who didn’t keep God’s law greatly affected my family and me. If a criminal had obeyed the law that says, “You shall not murder,” my dear friend, Shannon, would still be alive (Exodus 20:13). If a burglar had obeyed the law that says, “You shall not steal,” my husband and I would still have our backpacking and snorkeling gear (verse 15). If a church member had obeyed the one that says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor,” a family member I love would have been spared a lot of hurt (verse 16).
If a teenage friend had obeyed, “Honor your father and your mother,” her parents wouldn’t have been heartbroken (verse 12). If a friend had obeyed, “You shall not commit adultery,” three young children would still have a dad and mom living at home together (verse 14).
I could go on and on, because someone always gets hurt when we reject God’s law. And that’s why He gave the law. It isn’t our enemy. It’s our protection and our freedom from some very grim consequences.
Breaking God’s law
When God gave the Ten Commandments, He knew we couldn’t keep them perfectly. Although living by His law is our goal, we sometimes get off track. So are we doomed if we break one or more of His laws?
Here’s some good news: Along with the law came a plan for mercy! The apostle Paul said, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Were it not for the word but, we would all be doomed. Yet that one word changes everything. God made a plan—Jesus dying in our place—that saved us from the eternal death that resulted from our disobeying His law.
To illustrate how Jesus deals with our disobedience, here’s another police story with a happier ending.
Twenty-five-year-old Hayden Carlo was pulled over by a police officer in Texas because his car registration had expired. Carlo was honest with the officer, telling him that he knew he was driving with an expired license, but he and his family were going through a tough time financially. He actually had to choose between the registration and feeding his kids.
The police officer had to give Carlo a citation. He’d broken the law. But when Carlo opened the folded paper to see how much the ticket would cost him, he found a $100 bill! The officer had paid the fine with his own money.
And that’s what Jesus did. He paid our fine—with His own life.
God’s law in our hearts
So if we can’t keep the law perfectly and if the law can’t save us, then why should we even try? King David said it well in Psalm 40:8: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” That’s why we do our best to keep God’s law, and it’s why we ask for forgiveness and start over each time we fail. We desire to do God’s will out of love and respect for Him and His law. It’s a way we can give back to Him for all that He’s given us.
God gave us His law because He loves us. When we read His law, we soon realize that every single rule is given by a Father who doesn’t want His kids to hurt or be hurt. Every one of His commandments protects either us or someone else.
I have yet to meet a Christian who says, “I wish I hadn’t made the decision to be a Christian. There are just too many rules to follow! I feel controlled and bored because I can’t have any fun.”
Actually, it’s just the opposite. God’s law doesn’t bind us—it sets us free! His law helps us to be more like Jesus and understand His grace. His law makes us better people. His law protects us. Why? Because God’s law is a law of love.