Potatoes, pigeons and disrupting a wedding. Struggling to find a connection? Each of these objects or actions is the basis for somewhat strange pieces of Australian legislation still in effect today!
Thinking of selling or purchasing more than 50kg of potatoes in Western Australia? Well at that quantity these tasty little morsels could land you with a $A2000 fine under Section 22 of the Marketing of Potatoes Act 1946. And injuring a homing pigeon in Victoria or South Australia is a definite offence under the respective Summary Offences Act of those states. Finally, in South Australia, obstructing or disturbing a wedding, funeral or any religious service is an offence attracting a maximum penalty of $10,000 or two years’ imprisonment (Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) Section 7A).
Curiosity satisfied but what do these laws have to do with the law of God? Answer: Not a lot. They are merely examples of dated legislation, laws that made greater sense in past social contexts than they do today.
So is this true of God’s law? Do laws spoken about in the Old Testament, handwritten on tablets of stone (commonly known as the Ten Commandments) and delivered to God’s people—Israelites—all those millennia ago truly still hold relevance for our lives today? Laws passed from God to man, generation to generation—inscribed on stone and parchment, printed on paper and projected onto screens.
For me, my answer is yes! I wholeheartedly believe these laws continue to be relevant today.
Growing up as the youngest and only girl (with two brothers who towered over me in both age and height) led to an education of observation—watching both the actions and resulting consequences of my brothers’ behaviour. Like a miniature scientist (minus the lab coat), I would watch my brothers test the limits and learned where each and every line was placed so years later, when my turn came, I didn’t have to risk searching for it.
For the Israelites, their experience was not the same. Their role in history paralleled the role of my brothers. Pioneers in the desert. After being captives in Egypt, held as slaves for such a long time, their decision-making abilities were impeded, along with their capacity for self-care. Much like the care my parents took in raising their children and teaching us how to care for ourselves, God, as the Israelites’ Father, gave them His law as an act of love. As a hands-on parent, God inscribed these guidelines with His own finger, passing them to His children for their benefit and protection (Exodus 31:18). God also gave a set of other laws, commonly known as the Mosaic Law (or alternatively the Old Testament Law or Old Covenant) which were more specific to the context and challenges that his people faced in that time.
That love is the same love that God has for us today; and God’s Commandments are still intended for our benefit and protection, as they were for the Israelites all those years ago. While our situation has changed—our technology and education—our need for a Saviour remains. When men have written laws, they are focused on the present, as men cannot know the future. In contrast God knew the future when He gave humanity the biblical law of the Ten Commandments. He knew how the world would transform and He knew that we would still need His guidance to protect us from our own destructive tendencies. Our physical environment has changed, but our spiritual needs remain. God knew this when He gave us His moral law all those years ago.
The purpose of God’s law is to guide us through life. Knowing and understanding God’s law is almost akin to your teacher allowing you to take a “cheat sheet” into your exam, containing the formulas you will need for the scenarios you will face. But is God’s law a ticket or a barrier? Does following God’s law grant you a place in heaven? Or does the inability to always follow God’s law present an obstacle to eternal life? Personally, I do not subscribe to either of these theories. God’s law is neither a ticket, nor a barrier.
We cannot earn our way to heaven or eternal life by keeping God’s law, because if this was the requirement, no-one would be there. Nothing that we can do, on our own, is capable of earning us eternal life. “For by grace you have been saved through faith . . . it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9 NKJV)1. Eternal life is not something God offers to those who earn it or work the hardest, but is instead a question of faith. What does faith mean? Accepting that God as our Creator sent His Son Jesus to save us from death and evil, and accepting Jesus’ gift of His life is all it takes. No fine print and no expiry date. This process is not possible because of anything that we have done or will do. Jesus’ death and life on our behalf is the greatest gift, an undeserved gift that we are incapable of returning back to Him.
God’s law has been crafted by the Creator of the universe, the Creator of you and of me. You don’t question the washing instructions that come with a new clothing purchase because you know that the manufacturer knows best what their product is made of and how to care for it. So why do we question our Creator, who knows what we are made of and how to care for us?
Jesus lived a life that fulfilled the law. He claimed in Matthew 5:17 that the purpose of His mission on Earth was not to overthrow or destroy the law of God, but to fulfill it. He lived a life in harmony with God’s law and challenged human beings to live a life that was not just about outward appearances of obedience, but to think about why we do what we do. He used the example of how being angry in your heart is just like murder. God’s law says do not murder, but Jesus challenged us to expand the definition of murder, saying that if we wished to murder someone in our heart, it was just as bad, causing us to hold onto bitterness—it is against the principle or spirit of God’s law. Jesus, reflecting on God’s law against adultery, said that if we lust after someone in our minds, it is like we have done the deed we imagined. Jesus was pointing to the fact that we can’t really keep the law, not without God. But He could. As an example of a life lived in constant communication with God and harmony with God’s will, Jesus succeeded in keeping the law, where we as human beings would fail.
Jesus knew the best way for us to live was in harmony with the principles of God. And that God’s law could be boiled down to two main concepts: love God and love others. These simple concepts combined are what is known colloquially as the Golden Rule, or the greatest commandment: thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. . . love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:30, 31 KJV).
This is a recipe for fulfilment. Jesus ends His discussion of God’s laws in Matthew 5 and 6 (commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount”) with the encouragement to His followers not to worry about anything because God is in control and cares what happens to each and every one. Following God’s law can provide a sense of purpose and security.
What a difference it makes when we decide to wholeheartedly trust the Creator; to humbly accept His will and to follow His law of love—the law of God.
Brianna Watson is a policy officer for the Australian Government in Canberra where she is married and is a dog mum.
1. Verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.