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Great Commission and Law

Jesus left the church with one last command prior to returning back to his Father in heaven. That command was the Great Commission in which he acknowledged that all authority in both heaven and earth has been given to Him. He then instructed his disciples and future generations of Christian leaders to both share the Gospel and disciple the nations according to all he taught them.

We have been fairly faithful to sharing the Gospel in the world but discipleship has been pretty non-existent, according to research data by George Barna. The reality is that many of our church members have no idea what the Gospel is or how it should apply within their lives, other than avoiding personal sins. 

However, true discipleship involves teaching others everything God has revealed to us. This is especially important when it comes to teaching ethics. The laws of God remain the pure standard of human behavior because the law reflects the perfect nature of God himself. For this reason, God's laws are as changeless as is his character. While we are not saved by keeping God's laws, they do serve a moral standard by which all men should seek to live by in their pursuit of God's will and in the sanctification every person must undergo.

Due to a misunderstanding of the role of God's laws in the life of the believer, many Christians believe we are not obligated to follow God's laws within our lives. The end-result of holding to this view has been the rising lawless behavior of both our people and our culture. This is lawlessness and is referred to as antinomianism. 

There is a legitimate role for the law within our lives. The Reformers taught a three-fold use of God's laws in the lives of every believer.  

New Geneva Bible on 3uses of the Law

 

Scripture shows that God intends His law to function inthree ways, which Calvin crystallized in classic form for the church’s benefitas the law’s threefold use.

 

Its first function is to be a mirror reflecting to usboth the perfect righteousness of God and our own sinfulness and shortcomings.As Augustine wrote, “the law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements,and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help ofgrace.” The law is meant to give knowledge of sin (Romans 3: 20; 4: 15; 5: 13; 7:7-11), and by showing us our need of pardon and our danger of damnation to leadus in repentance and faith to Christ (Galatians 3: 19-24).

 

A second function the “civil use,” is to restrain evil.Though the law cannot change the heart, it can to some extent inhibitlawlessness by its threats of judgment, especially when backed by a civil codethat administers punishment for proven offenses (Deut. 13: 6-11; 19: 16-21; Romans 13: 3, 4). Thus itsecures civil order, and serves to protect the righteous from theunjust.

 

Its third function is to guide the regenerate into thegood works that God has planned for them (Eph. 2: 10). The law tells God’s children what will pleasetheir heavenly Father. It could be called their family code. Christ wasspeaking of this third use of the law when He said that those who become hisdisciples must be taught to do all that He had commanded (Matt. 28: 20), andthat obedience to His commands will prove the reality of one’s love for Him(John 14: 15).

 

Salvation and Law. The Christian is free from the lawas a system of salvation (Rom. 6: 14;7: 4, 6; 1Cor. 9: 20; Gal. 2: 15-19; 3: 25) but is “under law toward Christ” as arule of life (1Cor. 9: 21;Gal. 6: 2).   (p. 258, New Geneva StudyBible, 1995, R.C. Sproul - editor).

 

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Kingdom Men Kingdom Law

By Mark R. Rushdoony 

Much of Scripture isgiven to us in types and metaphors. These images teach because they are ofpowerful, often violent scenes which our cartoonish Sunday school images oftenavoid. The Exodus, Noah’s flood, and Jonah's deliverance all teach us of God’ssalvation, but they involve horrific scenes.

The use of lordship,kingdom, and law also once carried very negative connotations, for theexperience of the ancient world with these things was almost universally anegative one. Law was arbitrary and served the interests of the few. Politicalorder was to serve the king; individuals mattered little. When God by gracerescued the Hebrews from Egyptian despotism, one of His first provisions fortheir future blessing was the giving of the law. It constituted a grace initself, the gift of a law that represented not the arbitrary and abusive willof a political-religious oligarchy, but the justice system of a merciful God.

Biblical revelationoften replaces negative connotations with superlative ones. God restores bymaking all things new. He offers us a Kingdom, “not of this world,” withHimself as King and commands us to pray that this Kingdom come in its fullness.

Theocracy

Having this command torecognize His Kingdom, we must address the issue of the law of the king. A kingwithout authority is a figurehead. No kingdom is without law. Chalcedon hasfrequently used the term theocracy and theonomy. These terms describe moretheology than political philosophy. Theocracy means, literally, “the rule ofGod.” It recognizes that God reigns through Jesus Christ, to Whom “all power”was given “in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Theonomy, on the other hand,means “God’s law,” as authoritative in His Kingdom. The alternative to theonomyas God’s law is either a denial of theocracy and the “rule of God” or topropose that Christ’s Kingship is as a figurehead or at best a spiritual one.The first position renders the image of the King misleading, as there were nosuch monarchs in the ancient world; the later renders it weak because it meansthe King and His Kingdom are limited in jurisdiction.

Jurisdictional Matters

If we accept that Christis now King (theocracy) and that His law is authoritative (theonomy), then wewill view it as man's rules of Kingdom citizenship. When we travel abroad, we assume each nationhas laws for its jurisdiction which bind citizen and foreigner alike. They alsobind the law-abiding citizen as well as the rebel. They are, in fact, mostobviously needed to control “the lawless and disobedient” (1 Tim. 1:9). Therecan be only one law in a kingdom, and this is particularly true in the Kingdomof God because all God's laws are, by virtue of their source, moral laws.

We must also askourselves where God's Kingdom is located. The pietistic tradition of subjective dispensationaleschatologies suggests that it is in suspense until the return of Christ andthat the "church age" has no part in the Kingdom. A popular trend insome circles is to limit the Kingdom of God to the church, the secular worldactually referred to as a separate kingdom.

Church versus Family?

Amongst those who holdto the present rule of Christ (theocracy) and the law of God (theonomy) as theauthoritative codification of the Kingdom law, there has been a difference ofopinion as to the relative relationship of administrative duties. Thequestion has centered on whether the family or the local church is the primaryhuman sphere of and authority over Kingdom activities. Neither positiondenies the legitimacy of the other sphere, but how one answers this questiondictates the emphasis and means whereby Kingdom work is pursued.

Though Chalcedon hashistorically come down on the side of the family on this question, it has neverintended to weaken the church, but to strengthen the emasculated family.

The weakness of thechurch in our day is, aside from the general decline in faith in the West,largely due to its own retreat from the world into that of mere spiritualsolace. Those modern churchesthat encourage dominion actively find their impact is pronounced.

The faithful church,moreover, has demonstrated that it can survive persecution. Often, in suchtroubled times, its message has been heard as most earnest and needed. Thestrength of the church is the Word of God itself.

The family is different.Its strength, even when faithful, necessitates both authority and capital. TheHebrew commonwealth was tribal, that is, family based. This is to say the basicgovernment of the Hebrew society was the family. The great imbalance todaylies not between church and family, but between family and state.

The modern family is nowequated with the nuclear family rather than the patriarchal, tribal family thatrepresented generations of wealth and wisdom. In the economic sphere we can see the modern family asemasculated. Each generation is decapitalized by inflation, debt, taxation, andinheritance laws alone. This is a revolutionary blow that is repeated with eachgeneration. In a Biblical social order, family wealth would be accumulated andpassed on, while today we expect each generation to capitalize itself. RecentAsian immigrants have followed older family-friendly strategies by living incrowded conditions while accumulating capital with which to purchase businessesand homes debt-free. Their emphasis on the family has caused them to go togreat sacrificial lengths to create their own power-center. The increase in thepower of the family we wish to see, likewise, would be in its authority andself-government, which is encouraged by economic power. If this replaces anyother sphere of authority, such power would rob the state, not the church.

For the institutionalchurch to add to the pressure on the already weakened family by attacking thenecessity of stronger families involves a blow to an already weakened unit. Let the statists be on guard. StrongerChristian families will make for stronger churches. What pastor does not wantto see that homeschooled family of six, eight, or ten visit for the first time?

The Larger Issue

The larger issue is notthe relative roles of the church and family but theocracy, the rule of Goditself. Thus, the morefundamental debate is that of theonomy versus antinomianism, that is, whetherthe law of God applies or not.

If there is noapplicable law, there can be no theonomy as there is then no rule of God formen to follow. This creates problems. If obedience to God is subjective,there can be no objective disobedience, a very convenient result for sinful man.Moreover, no subjective obedience can be enjoined on another. The result ofantinomianism has always fluctuated between lawlessness and arbitraryrule-making.

In our day there is agreat expanse of open ground in need of Kingdom pioneers. If we acknowledge thelaw of God, then the question ought not to be what the godly church or familytakes from the other, but what both can take back for the Kingdom. Ideally thechurch should be encouraging stronger families and families should be buildingup their local church. The government of the Kingdom is upon Christ'sshoulders, not any of its administrative departments.

Who's in Charge?

The supremacy of God isthe key to a distinctly Christian view of authority and this is what referencesto the Kingdom of God, the law of God (theonomy), self-consciously do. Becauseof a misunderstanding of the relation of the law and grace, many refer only tothe Word of God. If Jesus is God and the Lord in Whom we profess faith(Phil. 2:9-11), then His Great Commission to teach men "to observe allthings whatsoever" He commanded involves teaching all that Word includingthe law.

Antinomianism is alsoanti-Trinitarian because it assumes that what Jesus commanded was differentthan what the triune God declared in Scripture. Trinitarian thought demands thatthe Word of God is the Word of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It demandsthat Jesus would not command, nor the Holy Spirit lead us contrary to thatrevealed, authoritative Word.

The Norm

Theocracy should be thenorm in our thinking, not as an ideal future, but as the present context forall of life. Sin and rebellion should be viewed as aberrations that will notlast. We need to think in terms of the absurdity of sin and unbelief.

The “rule of God” meansthe sovereignty of God and this precludes that of the state, church, or family. The sovereignty of God requires the authorityof His law-word as the standard for all spheres and all men. If we do not callthe world to God and His law, then we call the world to God and imply that theycan defy His law.

A man who refuses tobelieve in gravity has a problem. He must not be pandered to; he should bewarned of the certain laws of physics and the consequences of ignoring them.Likewise, a society (or church) that refuses to believe in God’s moral law mustalso be warned of the consequences of its violation. Such a message is notsubstituting law for salvation; it is giving unbelieving man the whole gospelof the Great Commission, one which is not only of redemption but restorationand fellowship through obedience. We must preach both faith and faithfulness.

As the second person ofthe triune God, Jesus spoke of the entire Word when He said, “If you loveme, keep my commandments,” (John 14:15; see also v. 21; 15:10) and“whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in thekingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).

 

Taken from the Sept/Oct2013 issue of Faith for All of Life. Get your subscription today!

Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony is president of Chalcedon and Ross House Books. He is also editor-in-chief of Faith for All of Life  andChalcedon’s other publications.